New York State Allows Trafficking Survivors to Vacate Prostitution Convictions

On June 15, 2010 the New York State senate passed a bill that, effective as soon as Governor Paterson signs it, enables survivors of human trafficking to vacate their convictions for prostitution-related offenses. This amendment to New York State Criminal Procedure Law grants those who were trafficked into commercial sex the opportunity to start over with a clean slate.

The Sex Workers Project (SWP) worked closely with Assembly Member Richard Gottfried to draft and introduce the bill in April 2009, which is also sponsored by Senator Thomas Duane. Supporters include the New York City Bar Association, the New York Anti-Trafficking Network, and Sex Workers Action New York.

The new legislation empowers survivors of trafficking by allowing them to move on with their lives, and function in society without the stigma of past exploitation. Survivors have a better chance of escaping re-victimization or further coercion when they do not have criminal records that often prevent them from obtaining work, getting stable housing, and adjusting their immigration status.

Who does this affect?

Over the past eight years the Sex Workers Project (SWP), a legal advocacy and services organization housed by the Urban Justice Center, has given legal assistance to many people who are in the sex industry by choice, circumstance, or coercion. As they assisted survivors of trafficking in accessing their rights and attaining safety, security, and a better future, it became clear that there was a need for a legal remedy that would allow survivors to move forward with their lives.

One client, “Carmen,” was trafficked from Mexico, and was beaten, abused and forced to do prostitution. She was arrested over 10 times during this nightmare, but her fear of the police made it impossible to inform law enforcement that she was being exploited by a third party. “Stacey” is a United States citizen who was trafficked into prostitution as a teen when she ran from an abusive home. She recovered with help from service providers, but has had trouble getting a job because of her prostitution conviction. As a result of the passage of the vacating prostitution convictions legislation, Carmen will no longer be blocked from immigration status because of her prostitution record, and Stacey will no longer have to inform potential employers of her record.

Why is this good?

People who are coerced into the sex industry and are then convicted of prostitution are handed a raw deal. In addition to being survivors of abuse and coercion, they saddled with lifelong stigma by the criminal justice system. With a prostitution conviction on their records, survivors of sex trafficking have a difficult time moving forward. This is not justice; it is harmful to survivors and can lead to re-victimization if they are unable to secure legal status in the United States and in the workforce.

The passage of this bill has shown us that it is possible for sex workers rights advocates to have their say, and that there are state legislators who will listen to our concerns. This gives us hope for changing a system that so often institutionalizes violence and discrimination against sex workers.

What’s next and what can I do about it?

If you live in New York State, this is a really great opportunity to make your Assembly and Senate representatives’ acquaintance. Send your representatives a letter (feel free to use the sample text below or write your own).

  • Find out who your Assembly member and Senator are here. Call or write to them to express your thanks!
  • To make it even easier, we’ve set up a form you can submit. Sign a “Thank you” petition on Change.org – which will automatically be sent to your representatives –  here.

There is, of course, more work to be done. There is another bill making its way through the legislature right now that, if passed, will stop police and prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence that people are engaging or intending to engage in prostitution. Right now in New York people who are profiled as prostitutes, very often trans women, often have their condoms confiscated as evidence of prostitution. In addition to thanking your representatives, you should urge them to support New York State Bill A10893/S01289A.

Sample letter:

Dear ______ ,

Thank you for voting in favor of New York State Bill A7670/S04429, which enables survivors of human trafficking to vacate their convictions for prostitution-related offenses.

I live in your district and I support the human rights of people who are in the sex industry by choice, circumstance, or coercion. The reasons a woman, transgender woman, man, or transgender man may enter and continue to be in the sex industry are complex and are often tied to economic instability and inequalities faced by women and LGBT people.

As you know, an advocate’s work is never done. Currently, bills A10893/S01289A are making their way through the legislature. If passed, this bill will stop police and prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence that people are engaging or intending to engage in prostitution. This practice affects public health initiatives promoting condom use and distributing condoms to at-risk populations. Please support this bill and remove the fear of carrying condoms among our most vulnerable populations.

Sincerely,

NAME

Address

I’m not a New Yorker. How can I advocate against harmful policies in my state?

Ask most people about government and they tend to talk about their federal representatives, the White House, or maybe their Mayor. But the state government may have the most significant impacts on our daily lives, particularly in the realm of criminal justice. Although the process from bill to law varies widely state to state, there are some common strategies sex worker advocates can take.

  • Familiarize yourself with the current laws that affect sex workers.
    • Criminal Law– find out what crimes sex workers are arrested and convicted for – it could include prostitution, solicitation, loitering, or others. Talk to sex workers in your community who have been arrested and ask them about their experiences with the law.
    • Civil Law – find out if sex workers can be evicted from their homes, denied custody of their children, or lose their jobs.
    • Exotic dancers, pro-dommes, porn actors, and others – Find out if there are laws that discriminate against these workers.
    • Ask a friendly lawyer for help!
  • Look for current bills that make changes to these laws – for better or worse. Try a search on your state’s legislative webpage for key words like “prostitution.”
  • Make allies – research local organizations that may be allied with your goals. Try LGBT orgs, public health orgs, harm reduction orgs, civil rights orgs. These organizations may have legislative advocacy staff that can help you get oriented.
  • Develop your platform. Think small – look for concrete objectives that can be accomplished with adjustments to the law. Any of these New York bills could be used as “model legislation” to make similar changes in your state. Your platform may include opposing bad bills that increase penalties for sex work.
  • Research your local representatives. Identify potential allies and opposition to sex workers rights.
  • Write, call, and meet with your legislator once you have a clear ask (“I would like to ask for your support on bill XXXXX” or “I have an idea for a piece of legislation that would accomplish…”). Assume they know nothing about sex work and may be surprised to hear from a sex worker/ally constituent.
  • Register to vote, and vote in local elections!

National US health care plan, what does ‘public option’ mean?

Thank you to Melora from SWOP-Boston for putting this all together.

Primary Source: TIME magazine
Secondary Sources: wikipedia.org, healthreform.gov, nytimes.com, various google searches (checking search lists for irregularities, will only site every source used upon request)

Note:

If you do not fall under one of the categories below, you will experience no change in coverage or costs. For the purposes of the following, Medicare means both Medicare, and Medicaid.

Have questions? Ask!

Have opinions? Dare to debate.

Effective 2010:

  • Uninsured with pre-existing condition receive immediate coverage (though i have not yet put together HOW – it depends on a plethora of factors that vary from one individual to another including income, employment, and geographic.
  • Uninsured and age 26 or younger are now approved to be covered by their parents’ insurance
  • Insurers no longer allowed to deny care to a patient who becomes sick (currently private companies are able to suspend coverage of individuals who develop certain illnesses, despite having paid their premiums)
  • Insurers no longer allowed to end coverage after a patient reaches a certain age (many companies will not cover you if you live past 80, for example)
  • Insurers no longer allowed to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions
  • Employers of small businesses to receive tax credits if they purchase insurance plans for their employees.
  • Medicare prescription drug beneficiaries receive $250 as a stipend when they hit the doughnut hole.
  • What is the doughnut hole? A rule in medicare part D prescription drug coverage that states that once Medicare has paid $2,700 in prescription drug coverage for an individual, they are then on their own to cover the full cost of prescription medications until they have reached $6,154 in prescription drug expenses.

Effective 2011:

  • Insurers required to spend 80% of premiums collected on medical services.
  • Medicare Prescription Drug Beneficiaries receive 50% the cost of prescriptions while in the doughnut hole.

Effective 2013:

  • Medicare taxes on unearned income increase for individuals earning $200,000+/yr or families earning $250,000+

Effective 2014:

  • Everyone must either be insured or pay a fine, whichever is less expensive. (the way the government will know whether you are insured is by making demonstrating proof of coverage a part of filing taxes.)
  • Families earning less than four times the federal poverty level ($22,000 x 4 = $88,000) receive subsidies to help them cover the cost of insurance
  • Public healthcare options provided by states (similar to the insurance already available in Massachusetts) become available to anyone in the country who does not have insurance coverage via either their parents, their employer, or medicare.
  • Insurers officially banned from denying anyone with a pre-existing condition
  • Insurers limited in their abilities to price coverage based on pre-existing conditions
  • Employers of 50 or more people must provide coverage to their employees or pay a fine, whichever is less expensive.

Effective 2018:

  • Insurers that bill individuals $10,200+ or families $27,500+ annually are subject to a 40% excise tax

Effective 2020:

  • The doughnut hole is eliminated.

A small bit about forcing people to have insurance:

  • The costs will be low (in MA current costs are about $25/month), and you get help if your family makes less than $88,000/yr.
  • This process does effectively ensure that public option healthcare can remain affordable and available to those of us who are dying and need it, and helps support emergency care, which is the most expensive and the most used by the uninsured who wait until they’re on their death beds to seek medical assistance.
  • You’ll be impressed how affordable it is for people as poor as us.

public option health insurance will bill on a scale according to income, not health status. private insurers will not be allowed to base prices on a patient’s medical status either. that was the main reason sited for why they pushed this bill so fast: so many people right now are sick and dying because they can’t afford health care.
however, there’s no way to know now what the exact numbers are yet, and this makes people uneasy. when it comes to costs, it’s still a couple years before the public option will be available, and each state will have its own variables that it has to grapple with in constructing their public option. While MA’s successful and extremely affordable public option healthcare (which began in 2006) will likely be a model for other states, it’s impossible to predict whether other states will be as generous with their benefits as MA.
this is an exact quote from TIME, which I take at face value based on the fact that the magazine is right wing and therefore has no motives to make the healthcare bill look good. the sources cited for the article from which i quote directly are the Congressional Budget Office, US Census Beaureau, Kaisser Family Foundation, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Commonwealth Fund:

if you [have a pre-existing condition and] plan to buy your own coverage, you will be able to get it from any insurer selling in your area, and you will pay the same as anyone else in your age group. insurers won’t be able to place annual or lifetime limits on your coverage, and regulations will limit your out of pocket spending. 36% of Americans were turned down or charged higher premiums because of pre-existing conditions in 2007.

Again, thank you to Melora of SWOP Boston for putting this all together for us, and for helping make it easily digestable, and for Time Magazine for being such a great source of information.

So, what are your thoughts, now that we can understand it?  For or against, call or email your congressman and senators and let them know!  Personally I’m for it now.  I think it could go a lot farther, but this is way better than what we currently have!!

update (3/29/10 8:20PM PST): fixed up the bit about forcing people to have insurance and costs, the original was by me (Tara) and this new update is by Melora, because she’s so much smarter then I am about this stuff!

update (3/3/10 2:20PM PST): Some of this may be incorrect, we are working on resolving these issues.. sorry! a 2,000+ page document boiled down to something someone can understand is hard!!!

update (3/30/10 5:48PM PST): Ok, apparently nobody knows what’s up with the above $$ part, so take all of the stuff like this with a grain of salt, a HUGE grain of salt.  If and when congress/senate ever make up their minds, then we’ll know.  Right now that’s the big debate they are fighting over, so if  you feel it should be one way or another, now is the time to contact our congress and senate.  The rest of the article stands as fact for now.

SWOP East Radio on XXBN International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

December 17, 2009 2 PM Eastern Listen to the Show

In honor of International Day to end Violence against Sex Workers Jill Brenneman and Renegade Evolution discuss progress and set backs facing Sex Workers Rights Movements all over the world. From laws to social attitudes, allies to enemies, the personal to the political, a lot of change has happened in the last 365 days, so please join us and feel free to call in at 646.200.3136 regarding this topic.

Presented by SWOP East Nuanced Humanism

Privacy for Sex Workers.

The guy in charge of Firefox just called out Google, saying, stop using their search.  Why would he do that? Because Google’s CEO said:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

But can’t we just trust in “I have nothing to hide?”.  NO.  Privacy is way more than what some company collects about you.  Privacy is The right of an individual to choose what personal information is given to who and when. So, think about your privacy, and what you want it to be, then SHARE that information with people.  Let people know what your privacy level is.  Do you want your partner to dish about your latest happenings to their friends?  Do you trust person X to know about your Sex Work, but don’t want them to tell anyone else?  The clearer and more open you can be about your privacy, the more it can be respected.  But back to this whole Google privacy issue:

So the Firefox guy says use Bing, which is Microsofts search.  I actually have some different thoughts. If you must have google search, there are ways to make it more private.  But there are search engines dedicated to Privacy, like ixquick.  Also, sites like Zuula and Hakia have reasonable privacy policies. I think I like Hakia‘s front page better, but from a privacy perspective ixquick is definitely the queen.

But what about Google’s other services?

I’d recommend Riseup or Yahoo Mail if you need free email.  Otherwise for some money try something like hosted Zimbra, I use a company in the UK. (I like the idea of my email being outside of the US.  Then the govt’s have to beg each other for access, and for what I do, I can’t see them caring enough).

Instead of Google Docs, try Zoho.  Instead of Google Analytics (which is on the short list to being banned in Germany), try Yahoo Analytics.

I sadly have no alternative to Google Maps  (There is Yahoo Maps, and Microsoft Maps, but they don’t really compare).

But, EVERY web company today (yes including Facebook, twitter, etc) all collect everything they can about you, to use for advertising, etc.  Google is by no means the only one.  However, Google’s privacy policy is HORRID.  Most of the others at least attempt to have one, and think about privacy.

So what can you do?

For every Privacy tool you use, there is a trade-off. There are things like TOR for the uber-private (and lots of tools to help integrate it into your browser experience easier). But for those of us that don’t need or want something quite so heavey handed, you can try some of these tools which I blatantly steal from Jah-Wren Ryel:

  • Adblock Plus [mozilla.org] – general catch-all to block things like doubleclick and the million other trackers
  • CookieSafe Lite [mozilla.org] – for fine-grained control of what sites can set cookiesNoScript [mozilla.org] – for fine-grained control of what sites can use javascript and flash
  • Redirect Cleaner [mozilla.org] – for removing those “bounce links” that a lot of sites use to track you when you follow a URL off their site, with the cleaner you go directly to the destination URL
  • RefControl [mozilla.org] – for clearing out or rewriting the referrer URL – prevents sites from knowing where you came from when you clicked a URL to their site, sometimes helpful in accessing poorly ‘restricted’ content
  • Targetted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out [mozilla.org] – sets special cookies that sites may choose to obey to say “don’t profile me” since these TACOs are not unique-per-user, I figure it can’t hurt although it probably doesn’t do anything
  • User Agent Switcher [mozilla.org] – Lets your browser identify itself as a different browser – this is very important
  • Ghostery [mozilla.org] – Informational Only – tells you what tracking sites may be tracking you on any given page (does not block them, and you get false alarms on sites where NoScript blocks javascript, but it is still good for situational awareness)
  • Better Privacy [mozilla.org] – Blocks new stealth “super cookies” in Flash and DOM Storage Objects. VERY IMPORTANT.

One more thing before I wrap up about privacy, what about this Do I need a second pre-paid phone to do sex work?

NO, but you probably want one anyway.  It won’t do anything to hide you from the police.  If you want to hide from the police, you need to do a lot of things differently.  If it’s just around Sex Work, the cops almost certainly don’t care about your legal identity until after they bust you.  But, it’s great way to keep stalkers and others from tracking down your legal identity.

Privacy is WAY more than just keeping your browsing information from Google, but it was a great excuse for me to write about the larger issues of privacy.  I encourage you to think about what you want known about you, both online and off, and then share your boundaries or your own personal Privacy Policy with others, so that there is a greater chance of it being respected. I certainly don’t know all the answers.  Do you have great tips on privacy?

There ya go Donna Hughes. You’ve saved the Carolina Panthers Mascot from potential trafficking

Donna Hughes may finally have a victory she can cite.

The New England Patriot’s mascot was arrested in Rhode Island for hiring an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute on Craigslist. With the Carolina Panthers coming to town this week, one could only imagine what heinous perpetrations the New England Patriots mascot may have had in mind with the Carolina Panthers mascot. Which is ironically a ki….. umm cat.

Well, there ya go Donna, there would have been cross border traveling as I can personally attest that the Carolina Panthers play their home games in North Carolina, and I have no doubt the Panthers Mascot would have been brought across state lines via aircraft with many young women, ironically called the Carolina TopCats who are likely to be scantily clad at game time.

I’m certain Donna Hughes would argue, all the indicators of human trafficking are there,,,,,, There is cross border transportation, young women dressed as cheerleaders, even many men who will play with their balls on Sunday.

But thanks to her efforts, this may have been thwarted.
MSNBC

From MSNBC “Don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to say it; Pat the Patriot, beloved mascot of the New England Patriots and inspiration to Boston-area children since 1960, has been arrested in a prostitution sting. But it gets worse: Evidently Pat was caught answering a naughty ad on Craigslist. Placed by a policeman in Rhode Island.

Rumor has it that local prostitutes called Pat by his other nickname, “The Revolutionary Minuteman.” They did not mean it as a compliment”.

Read More

Open Invitation to the Int’l Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

poster_small_jpgIn 2009, sex workers from around the globe met gruesome deaths and endured unspeakable violence. Some died at the hands of a solitary perpetrator; others were victims of serial “prostitute killers.” While some of these horrific stories received international media attention (Boston, Grand RapidsTijuana, Cape Town, Sussex, Moscow, New Zealand and Hong Kong, just to name a few), other cases received little more than a perfunctory investigation. Many cases remain unresolved, sometimes forever. In fact, most violent crimes against sex workers remain unreported. Stigma and criminalization facilitate this violence; when sex work is criminalized, prostitutes can’t turn to the police for protection without risking prosecution themselves.

Each year, December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Last year’s event in Washington, D.C. was a big success and this year, sex workers and their allies from across the U.S. will gather together in Arizona to remember and honor sex workers who, by virtue of their profession, have been victimized  – including rape, assault and murder.

You are invited to join us on December 17-18, 2009 in Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona to honor their memory.  This year is especially poignant for us in Arizona because in May, 2009, Marcia Powell, an inmate at the Perryville women’s prison outside of Phoenix who was serving 27 months for prostitution, died when she was left outside in a holding cage in 107 degree heat without shade, food or water. Marcia Powell’s death is not only a travesty of justice and a failure of the prison system, but bring into sharp focus the unjust nature of current anti-prostitution laws which continue to oppress sex workers everywhere. We are outraged and saddened, and we ask for your participation in putting an end to the violence.

To learn more about the IDEVASW events in Arizona, please click here or visit SWOP-Tucson.  If silence is the voice of complicity, then your presence in Arizona this December will be a powerful message for justice to be heard across the world.

_________________________@@@_____________________

IDEVASW Event Schedule – Arizona

December 17, 2009 – Tucson

5:00 – 6:00 p.m. “No Human Involved” Event

El Presidio Park, 160 West Alameda Street, Tucson, AZ.

Performance art/art installation with the theme, “No Human Involved.” The central image will be a physical representation of the Perryville Prison which will honor Marcia Powell and sex workers everywhere who have been victims of violence; a performance piece/die-in and live music.

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. “Remembrance Memorial”

El Tiradito Shrine, 354 South Main Avenue, Tucson, AZ.

Join us in remembering and honoring sex worker who have been victims of violence. Live music, performance poetry, ritual, candlelight vigil and refreshments. El Tiradito is a national historic shrine dedicated to the “castaway sinner” and holds a special place in the hearts of Tucson sex workers.

December 18, 2009 – Phoenix

Political Rally at the downtown Phoenix offices of the Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections to protest current anti-prostitution laws and prison conditions. Did you know that in Arizona, a fourth conviction is a mandatory Class 5 felony with 180 days of prison for consensual sex between a client and a sex worker? Please visit http://swop-tucson.org for more details. Volunteers are needed to organize this day!

For more information or to volunteer, please email info@swop-tucson.org

The Myth of Criminalizing Prostitution

Robert Arthur, author of the cartoon and blog post sent me the link and asked me to post it here. He examines how criminalizing prostitution does not protect the worker in any way, inspired by the reactions because Markoff found his victim through CraigsList.