ELIOT SPITZER SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS THAT CURRENT POLICIES AROUND SEX WORK AND TRAFFICKING ARE NOT EFFECTIVE

STATEMENT

For Immediate Release: Contact: Sapna Patel, SWP, 646/602.5626, spatel@urbanjustice.org

Friday, March 14, 2008 Juhu Thukral, SWP, 646/602.5690, jthukral@urbanjustice.org

ELIOT SPITZER SCANDAL HIGHLIGHTS THAT CURRENT POLICIES AROUND SEX WORK AND TRAFFICKING ARE NOT EFFECTIVE

(New York City, March 14, 2008) – Eliot Spitzer resigned from his position as Governor of New York after being implicated in a prostitution scandal. The irony is that Mr. Spitzer’s office helped pass Anti-Trafficking Legislation in New York and specifically pushed through controversial provisions that we opposed, one enhancing penalties for clients of all prostitutes, and another that made trafficking into all sectors other than prostitution a lesser crime. As advocates for the protection, safety and human rights of sex workers and trafficked persons, we are not interested in Eliot Spitzer’s personal life. However, his resignation provides an opportunity to reflect on the counterproductive and moralistic policies that he supported as Governor.

To focus solely on the salacious scandal created by Mr. Spitzer’s alleged actions without attention to the realities and needs of sex workers does nothing to provide solutions for sex workers. Sex workers are individuals whose reasons for engaging in sex work – and leaving it – are personal, economic and social – as complex as anyone’s reasons for involvement in any type of work. The current scandal brings to light the variety of sex work people engage in and the reality that, although many may find themselves in the industry due to lack of economic opportunity, not all are forced or coerced.

The inaccurate conflation of prostitution and trafficking encourage policy makers to create laws that in reality provide no real solutions for safety and protection for sex workers or that comprehensively address the issue of human trafficking. Mr. Spitzer’s alleged involvement in this scandal further evidences that “end demand” policies that emphasize criminal punishment of the clients and shaming simply do not work. As seen in this situation, seemingly no efforts have been made to address the needs of the sex worker involved in this scandal. A narrow focus on demand in the context of sex work represents a dangerous move toward policies which, under the guise of protecting sex workers, is another way of undermining sex workers’ independence and causing more harm to them. Enhancing penalties for clients of sex workers will not “eliminate the demand” and end trafficking but instead makes sex workers more afraid, more stigmatized and less safe. The fact that someone with as much to lose as Eliot Spitzer would still visit sex workers speaks volumes about the efficacy of such strategies.

Sex workers’ voices are largely absent from discussions of the policies that affect them. Laws and regulations on sex workers’ health and safety are generally made without their input and often overlook or even deny their human rights. It is ironic that sex workers’ human rights are often jeopardized by the very policies intended to help them. Policies based on the assumption that sex work is inherently dehumanizing can never recognize or improve the reality of sex workers’ lives.

Policymakers must revisit perceptions and policies towards sex work in the U.S. and instead of narrowly focusing on ineffective criminal justice strategies to protect sex workers and eliminate trafficking, they must redirect resources to social services that provide real solutions, realistic economic opportunities, and protections against violence and exploitation. Addressing basic human needs for education, equal opportunity and a realistic array of economic options would help to ensure that no one who enters sex work does so because of trickery or coercion.

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center provides legal services, legal training, documentation, and policy advocacy for sex workers in New York City. For more information, please visit our website at: http://www.sexworkersproject.org

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2 Responses

  1. Wow!! This is a great statement!

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