November 28, 2017 by TWP The Women’s Project
Help us understand what is particularly important about the experiences of this group of women.
Sex workers are the only population besides undocumented people that are criminalized for their status as a person.
In fact many of the institutions that are supposed to protect us, are sent to erase our existence. Sex workers face many barriers in organizing, fighting for their labor rights and are often faced with hostility from members of their own communities.
There is an ongoing study of 62 sex workers in Rhode Island, conducted by COYOTE RI and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ) at Brown University (2014- 2016). Our findings revealed that 11% of Rhode Island sex workers reported being sexually assaulted by a police officer, and 15% reported being robbed or assaulted by a police officer. 77% of Rhode Island sex workers reported to the Brown researchers that they had been the victim or witness of a crime they didn’t report to police. 4% reported being arrested while trying to report a crime, and 26% reported being threatened while trying to report a crime.
65% said they wouldn’t report violence or crimes to the police for fear of arrest; and nearly 15 % reported that they have been to graduate school. These insights into sex workers working in Rhode Island reveal that they are not simply desperate “victims” of evil traffickers. For many, sex work is an important form of work that allows them to put food on the table.
What access to medical and mental health services do sex workers have?
We just surveyed over 1500 US sex workers, and while we are still analyzing the data, we know the majority of sex workers go to family planning clinics, and they do not disclose their status as a sex workers, because their past experiences have led to discrimination and hostility.
Mental health professionals seem to be incompetent when dealing with sex workers as they often suggest that a sex worker quit their job, and of course they would never suggest that a CEO quit his job. We see a HUGE need for ALL service providers to recieve trainings from sex worker rights organizations.
Further more over the summer of 2017, Coyote interns emailed every shelter in RI, twice, offering them free training and House of Hope was the only shelter that emailed us back and showed any interest.
Why are you passionate about reproductive rights issues?
We believe that reproductive rights are important for all women, and it is constantly under attack. I think that REAL feminists should support the choices of every woman whether they personally agree with those choices or not. I think reproductive rights and the issue of prostitution has divided the feminist movement for the past several decades.
We believe that every woman has a right to not give birth or to give birth and we feel that forcing poor women to have children is a human rights violation.
In what ways does the issue of access to reproductive health care impact sex workers?
Our survey result show that over 40% of sex workers do not know what prep is, and 65% report that their medical provider didn’t even tell them about prep. No doubt this is because sex workers don’t trust medical providers to out their status as sex workers.
What Rhode Islander legislators & our community need to understand that sex work is more complicated than many imagine — and it’s different from sex trafficking.
What else do we need to know so we can be better allies?