Moving Forward Against Criminalization


Photo: Sex worker activists in Mexico City, August 2008, International AIDS Conference

Sex worker activist & BNG contributor Wendy Vinaigrette is currently in Europe, where she offers these reflections on lessons learned from Prop K:

I was overjoyed by the alliances that were built or that surfaced as a result of this campaign.

I also knew there were a lot of organizations against it – some that surprised me. For instance, the GLBT newspaper the Bay times refused to endorse the proposition. They fell for this argument that it would promote trafficking.

A friend informed me that a certain union – I think it was the Longshoremen´s union decided not to endorse prop k because someone did a presentation there about the legislation being written by someone who managed sex workers. This made me upset because, if so many sex workers are saying for themselves, decriminalization is better, then the union should respect that. Decriminalization allows for unionization.

Clearly however, we did get a lot of support for the proposition. We are getting closer to decriminalization. Now, it is our job to use the momentum from the campaign to continue our work. To closely examine how we lost and to not make the same mistakes again.

Especially clear is how the question of trafficking defeated the proposition. We as sex workers need to strengthen our analysis of the issues of trafficking. We need to do more work to raise awareness around the complexities of this issue and how it affects people.

Also, we need to work more closely with other political movements. Sex workers are affected, for example, by issues of immigration, gentrification and affordable housing. More of us to need to work directly on these issues and broaden our scope of activism. We need to build coalitions with these groups.

The systemic racism and classism also means that the majority of sex worker activists are white and more privileged. We all need to work harder to include the voices of sex workers from other communities and backgrounds. We need to make this a priority.

Its always important to remember the intersections of social justice movements, and that it is all related – issues that I already mentioned of immigrant rights, gentrification and affordable housing, issues of homophobia, and transphobia…This and more are all related, and we need to all work together to fight these things.

And we need not wait until the next election to do so. We need to do this now.

Strengthening our alliances with GLBT groups, organized labor, and social justice movements — especially those working against the criminalization of migration & poverty and the expansion of the prison industrial complex — is going to be crucial in moving forward.

It will not be without challenges.

We should expect critique from the GLBT community, who may not know how many sex workers are GLBT/queer ourselves. We will have to face questions we may not have immediate answers to on trafficking, on human rights — especially with sectors of the feminist movement arguing that the human right not to be a sex worker is more important than the human rights of sex workers!

We will have to disentangle myths about pimping and the role of management in sex work businesses, and argue for the ability of workers to determine their own conditions of employment and right to make a living. We will have to answer even more astutely as to why shame-based, forced treatment programs are, at best, quick fixes, and at worst, perpetuate violence against sex workers.

In short, we will have to find a way to articulate the structural violence that sex workers face as a result of criminalization, and we will have to make courageous allies in that process.

So what does the end of criminalization look like? Where do we go from here? What could we do differently? What do we do next?

11 Responses

  1. Wendy Viniagrette wrote: “Especially clear is how the question of trafficking defeated the proposition. We as sex workers need to strengthen our analysis of the issues of trafficking. We need to do more work to raise awareness around the complexities of this issue and how it affects people.”

    I totally agree with Wendy. It is important for us to advocate the right of consenting adults to exchange sex for payment, while also advocating against nonconsensual labor in all industries.
    Human trafficking is such a contentious issue, so we must be extremely careful how we word anything regarding human trafficking. We need to be very clear because if we are at all ambiguous, that makes it easier for the opponents to take what we said out of context and harder for voters to grasp what we’re really saying and what the proposition would really do.
    Here is the wording as it appears in Prop. K:
    “San Francisco’s law enforcement agencies shall not apply, nor receive federal and state monies
    that institute racial profiling as a means of targeting alleged trafficked victims under the guise of
    enforcing the abatement of prostitution laws. ”
    The anti’s kept directly quoting parts of this sentence to support their claim that Prop. K would prevent or hinder the ability to stop human trafficking. Of course, this isn’t what Prop. K would do, but the anti’s were able to take the quote out of context and use it to support their prohibitionist agenda againt prostitution.
    For future reference, a clearer and more effective way to word it would be, “San Fracisco’s law enforcement may not use any anti-trafficking monies it receives to arrest, prosecute, and/or deport sex workers. “

  2. I definitely agree and think this is an important issue to raise. No social movement is successful by itself, or without examining only one axis of oppression. The sex worker rights movement has a great opportunity to network and outreach with our allies. They may not agree with us or like us, but we can help each other. We may not like talking to abolitionists, academics, and other social movements, but it’s something that has to be done.

  3. […] And San Francisco? Securing 42% of the vote is great news. You’ll get there. […]

  4. “For future reference, a clearer and more effective way to word it would be, “San Fracisco’s law enforcement may not use any anti-trafficking monies it receives to arrest, prosecute, and/or deport sex workers. “

    This sentence is fine, but *some* people are insisting that pimps are sex workers, so we’re back to square one.

  5. Well, anon, how do you define “pimp?” (And no, I don’t see the answer as obvious.)

  6. Unfortunately most abolitionists won’t even consider working with us. Most seem far more interested in protecting the status quo, arguing words and issuing proclamations of the evils of the sex worker rights than actually taking the steps necessary to fight for social justice.

  7. I don’t doubt that abolitionists won’t consider working with us, but I brought it up because abolitionists have access to resources. Sex worker rights activists have to talk to abolitionists. The conversation might be unpleasant, but it’s inevitable.

  8. The sex workers’ rights activists are abolitionists. We’re working to abolish the criminalization of prostitution, exploitative workers conditions, and violence against sex workers.

  9. >>>I don’t doubt that abolitionists won’t consider working with us, but I brought it up because abolitionists have access to resources. Sex worker rights activists have to talk to abolitionists. The conversation might be unpleasant, but it’s inevitable.>>>

    They have access to resources because they are getting paid handsomely to propagandize against sex workers and their allies. They are getting paid handsomely to keep sex work criminalized.

    And as for talking to abolitionists, well that might be easier if they allowed their opposition (that’s us) to post on their blogs without censorship.

    :->

  10. Anon wrote:
    “This sentence is fine, but *some* people are insisting that pimps are sex workers, so we’re back to square one.”

    Even so, anti-traffickings funds should never be used for anything other than preventing and stopping human trafficking, or providing noncoercive services to people who have been trafficked.

  11. Obviously, wording needs to be more careful.
    I find myself wondering if we could raise the necessary monies to replace the funds that would supposedly be lost due to the first offender programs?
    This was one of the rhetorics used against us. A new version of the bill could -specifically- state that the exact monies that would have been used for the prosecution of sex workers would be required to go to fund programs to help sex workers out of the business.
    I know this is unappealing to some, but I do know that one of the issues was a worry that sex workers who wished to quit would no longer have these programs available. They also wouldn’t have a criminal record, but this aspect is harder for folks to understand.
    There is also the worry that the prop would make hunting for trafficking victims difficult, so the new prop really should have language that -specifically- allows for the systematic search for such, but does not allow for any -arrests- of sex workers themselves, unless found guilty of actual trafficking. The bill should be clear that the police efforts should not be used to victimize the workers themselves, as they currently are.
    The issue of trafficking is a sticky one, that is actually more about illegal immigration disguised as a human rights issue. Sadly, this is virtually impossible to get through to people at this juncture, though efforts should be made, for the future.

    Finally, we need to seriously get out into the sex worker community of SF and the country at large and start generating capitol. We got 43% of the vote! This is wonderful, and better than anything we’ve seen so far. We have to get out there and get sex workers involved. Think of it as something like paying taxes(as many workers don’t). Paying a portion of your earnings for the purpose of funding better government services. Campaigning has a lot to do with money.

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