Nevada’s Failed $5 Tax on Prostitution

As the sex industry in Nevada, as elsewhere, is thriving amid the financial crisis, state senator Bob Coffin proposed a $5 tax on all acts of prostitution in the state’s legal brothels.

In an article published online for the UK’s Guardian, Melissa Ditmore tackles the failed taxation scheme, and points out the fact that people in the legal, as well as illegal, sex industry do pay taxes.  A fact that is largely ignored by the rest of society. While many in Nevada benefit from the substantial licensing fees the brothels pay to rural counties, countless restrictions are imposed on brothel workers, many of which serve to isolate the workers  from their local community.

Taxing sex work is not a problem. Sex workers pay taxes like everyone else. Tracy Quan, author of Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl, and a member of Prostitutes of New York, said: “People outside the industry fantasise about prostitution, and their fantasy includes freedom from normal responsibilities. So one of the escapist myths is that sex workers don’t have to pay taxes. Of course they have to, and if they do not, the penalties are considerable.”

The Nevada counties prefer not to acknowledge the contribution made by licensed prostitution to their bottom line. Some counties and towns impose some extraordinary restrictions on commercial sex workers. The net effect of these regulations is to separate sex workers from the local community. Some jurisdictions require brothel prostitutes to leave the county when they are not working, while others take the opposite tack, forbidding them to leave the brothel where they work. Some do not allow the children of the women who work in the brothels to live in the same area.

Some of the revenue from the proposed tax would have funded new services for prostitutes, including a counselling service. If I were so isolated within the community in which I lived and worked, I just might need that counselling service. The problem is the fact that sex workers are treated as separate and unequal members of their communities. If the tax changed this, it would be cheap at the price.

New Report Examines the Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking in Persons

On Friday, January 9th, The Sex Workers Project, at the Urban Justice Center in New York City, released a new report, Kicking Down the Door, that analyzes the use of “rescue” raids in the fight against human trafficking.

The report “summarizes findings from interviews with 46 people with experience of such raids, including service providers who have worked with hundreds of trafficking victims, law enforcement personnel, and 15 immigrant women who have been trafficked,” and “concludes that so-called “rescue” raids are not an effective way to stop trafficking in persons and in fact can be counter-productive.”

From PlanetWire.org:

WASHINGTON DC, Jan. 9 – Law enforcement raids designed to rescue victims of human trafficking may do more harm than good for the victims and are ineffective or even counter-productive in curbing the practice, a coalition of advocates for sex workers said today. They urged President-elect Obama to adopt a rights-based approach to the problem.

The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, a New York-based coalition of service providers, researchers, advocates, donors and sex workers, released a report analyzing the experiences of 46 people involved in such raids during 2007 and 2008.

“The findings suggest that vice raids are an ineffective means of locating and identifying trafficked persons,” said Dr. Melissa Ditmore, primary author of the study, during an audio news conference announcing the release. “They are often accompanied by violations of human rights of the trafficked persons and sex workers and are therefore counterproductive to their own goals.”

Kicking Down the Door concludes with a lengthy list of recommendations for the US government, law enforcement personnel, and service providers. For some of us, these recommendations are common sense, but most of us also know that common sense isn’t really the cornerstone of policies involving sex work.

The Sex Workers Project (SWP) provides legal services and legal training, and engages in documentation and policy advocacy, for sex workers. Using a harm reduction and human rights model, we protect the rights and safety of sex workers who by choice, circumstance, or coercion remain in the industry. They released two previous reports, Revolving Door and Behind Closed Doors, which examined street-based sex work and indoor sex work in New York City, respectively.

Sex Workers, Human Rights, and HIV Testing

A posting from the New York City Human Rights Initiative blog, written by Melissa Ditmore.

Police-initiated testing? Let’s return to the rights-based approach!

I’m sorry to be the bad fairy while most people feel good about our achievements on World AIDS Day. Sex workers in Mongolia and Macedonia have reported being forced to undergo HIV testing subsequent to being arrested. Sex workers are rightly indignant: forced testing is a human rights violation and has been condemned by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.

Proposition K on RH Reality Check

SF’s Proposition K: Changing the Landscape for Sex Workers

Sienna Baskin and Melissa Ditmore on October 28, 2008 – 8:00am
Next week, San Francisco voters will vote on Proposition K, which would prohibit the use of public funds to enforce laws criminalizing prostitution, and mandate that police investigate crimes against sex workers. The passage of Proposition K would change the landscape for sex workers in San Francisco in critical ways. First, by removing police officers’ power to arrest sex workers, it would reduce sex workers’ vulnerability to all of the abuses of that power sex workers currently experience: police profiling and harassment, sexual harassment and assault, rape, and extortion of sexual favors under threat of arrest by police officers, and entrapment.

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Sex Workers Denied Right to Safe Work

Another great piece by Melissa Ditmore at RH Reality Check: Sex Workers Denied Right to Safe Work.

Sex Workers Denied Right to Safe Work
Melissa Ditmore on October 17, 2008 – 8:00am

This December marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to livelihood is enshrined in the declaration. I mention this because it is one of the rights most often denied to sex workers.

Around the world, people turn to sex work in the hope that it will enable them to earn a living. But authorities and misguided anti-prostitution policies routinely deny them that right.

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center has released two reports highlighting this fact. (See them here). Sex workers interviewed for these reports described becoming involved in commercial sex for financial reasons, and they described the difficulties faced by unskilled workers, especially transgender workers, in their efforts to earn a living wage.

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Anti-Prostitution Pledge Results in Discriminatory Treatment

Melissa Ditmore’s latest on the anti-prostitution pledge at http://www.rhrealitycheck.org:

Anti-Prostitution Pledge Results in Discriminatory Treatment
Melissa Ditmore on October 9, 2008 – 8:00am
Recently on RH Reality Check, I examined the damaging effects on sex workers of a new law against prostitution in Cambodia. The perception on the ground is that the law was passed so that Cambodia could avoid sanctions associated with the US Traffic in Persons report.
This is not the first time that sex workers have been sacrificed at the altar of US funding. Anti-trafficking funding and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) deny funding to any organization that does not have an explicit policy against prostitution and sex trafficking. Outwardly, this seems innocuous, but the restriction has been used in ways that seriously undermine public health and anti-trafficking efforts in the developing world. Denying services to sex workers is counter-productive in both areas.
In addition, the terms of the restriction have been left ambiguous, allowing some self-appointed experts to act as “police” for the US government in watching aid recipients for alleged missteps. CHANGE released an updated policy brief detailing the ways in which sex workers have been adversely affected by this restriction.

Research for Sex Work, Volume 10

Research for Sex Work is an annual journal dedicated to the topic of research on sex work. It aims to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas, experiences, observations and research results with regards to sex work and HIV prevention in the broader framework of health and human rights. Although the title suggests otherwise, Research for Sex Work is not an academic journal. Readers and authors are from sex workers (support) organisations, HIV prevention projects, local and international NGOs, universities, research institutes, etc.

Volume 10 of the journal is now available online, in both English and Spanish. VAMP and SANGRAM of Sangli, India, were the production partners for this edition. The bilingual table of contents for this edition is listed below.

Editorial
Melissa Ditmore . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Cover
Resisting Raids and Rescue
VAMP Collective and SANGRAM . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
Los trabajadores sexuales en la India
enfrentan abuso en Ataques de incursiones

en la Colectividad de VAMP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5
SexWorker Activists: Embodying Aberrance
Stewart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
Activistas trabajadoras sexuales:
Expresando la Aberración

Stewart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
A participatory-action and interventional research
approach to HIV prevention and treatment
among women in survival sex work

Shannon and Bright . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Una aproximacion participativa e intervencionista
en la prevención del VIH y tratamiento en mujeres
que hacen trabajo sexual para sobrevivir

Shannon and Bright . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11
“My one-way ticket to Kamathipura”:
Rights of sex workers compromised

Karandikar and Próspero . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
“Mi boleto de ida a Kamathipura”
Karandikar and Próspero . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
The PEPFAR “Anti-Prostitution Pledge”:
A Case Study from Nigeria

Elder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15
El “Compromiso Anti-Prostitución” PEPFAR:
Un estudio de caso desde Nigeria

Elder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
Sex worker organising in Madagascar
Greenall and Rasoanaivo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Organizando a las trabajadoras sexuales en Madagascar
Greenall and Rasoanaivo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
Unfriendly encounters
Freeland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
Encuentros no amistosos
Freeland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25
Street SexWork and SexWorker Rights?
Blinding Connections

McCracken . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27
¿Trabajo Sexual en la Calle y Derechos de las
Trabajadoras Sexuales? Conexiones cegadoras

McCracken . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29
Tribes Bangin in Da City
Jeffreys, Tapuhi, Abigail and Huynh . . . . . . . . . . .32
Announcements / Avisos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33
Colofon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Back Cover

Sex Workers & HIV/AIDS: Reality Check

Melissa Ditmore’s latest piece at http://www.realitycheck.com: Punishing Sex Workers Won’t Cure HIV/AIDS, Says Ban Ki-moon

Add United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the list of people who understand that arresting and punishing sex workers is counter-productive in the battle against HIV/AIDS. And take the government of Cambodia off that list.

The Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy wrote to Ban in June to applaud his statement commending the findings of a March report that favored decriminalizing sex work. The Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia noted that sex workers are part of the solution to preventing the spread of HIV, and advised countries to “avoid programs that accentuate AIDS-related stigma and can be counterproductive. Such programs may include ‘crack-downs’ on red-light areas and arrest of sex workers.”

To express their gratitude for this understanding, sex workers and advocates circulated a statement at the June 11-12 UN High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS as Ban spoke to the gathering in New York. “Sex workers thank [Ban] for his support of their efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” the statement said.

The March report strongly advised countries to enlist sex workers in the effort to prevent the spread of HIV. It included firm recommendations against punitive measures targeting sex work and other frowned-upon behaviors, on the grounds that such approaches have proven counter-productive. The UN Secretary-General supported these recommendations in his statement and sex workers everywhere are grateful.

Unfortunately, some governments continue to deny reality.

Under pressure from the United States, Cambodia outlawed prostitution in February. The government’s promotion of a “no condoms, no sex” program in legal brothels there had succeeded in reducing HIV infection rates, but now those brothels have closed or gone underground, along with bars, karaoke clubs and street areas. Hundreds of women have been arrested, jailed or displaced, while dozens have been raped and beaten by police and prison guards. The HIV prevention and care programs that were working have collapsed.

Sex Workers Thank UN Secretary General for His Support

Contact:
Laxshmi Narayan Tripiti, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, laxmirakasha@yahoo.co.in
Melissa Ditmore, Network of Sex Work Projects, +1 646-242-1658
Prostitutes of New York, pony@panix.com
Women’s Network for Unity, +855-12-222-171

Sex Workers Thank UN Secretary General for His Support

Sex workers from around the world unfurled a banner reading “Sex workers support Ban Ki Moon” during his speech at the opening plenary of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. Sex workers thank United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon for his support of their efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

On March 26, 2008, the Report of the Commission on AIDS in Asia was released with a statement from the Secretary General. This excellent report calls for the decriminalization of sex work, and counsels governments and other actors to, “Avoid programmes that accentuate AIDS-related stigma and can be counterproductive. Such programmes may include ‘crack-downs’ on red-light areas and arrest of sex workers.” Realistic efforts to include affected populations including sex workers are critical to combat the spread of HIV – in fact, sex workers are generally leaders in sexual health when their human rights are respected. The report further promotes the needs of marginalized populations including drug users for efficacious and ethical solutions, such as harm reduction methodologies, to the HIV epidemic. The report further promotes the needs of marginalized populations including drug users for efficacious and ethical solutions, such as harm reduction methodologies, to the HIV epidemic.

Unfortunately, some Asian governments have not adopted the methods recommended in this report. Cambodia has recently outlawed prostitution and since then brothels, bars, street areas, and karaoke clubs across the country have been closed or gone underground. Hundreds of women have been arrested and imprisoned, or have had to move. Dozens have been raped and beaten by police and prison guards. HIV prevention and care programs have collapsed. This law makes sex workers easier prey for traffickers, and makes it impossible for sex workers to use condoms. Sex workers in Cambodia protested this law on June 4, calling for repeal of the law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation and for an end to raids on sex workers. They said, “Don’t be fooled by talk of rescuing ‘sex slaves’ until you have heard our testimonials and seen video evidence of the brutality and misery this new law is causing.” http://blip.tv/file/970833

Melissa Hope Ditmore, Ph.D.
Coordinator
Network of Sex Work Projects
rights@nswp.org, secretariat@nswp.org

P.O. Box 20853
New York, NY 10009
USA

Sex Work and Trafficking Are Different

Last night, Melissa Ditmore published an article that provided a dose of sanity on RH Reality Check. Yet again, the difference between sex work and trafficking needed to be explained. While the site in question has featured some good writing on the topic, in the past few weeks, two articles appeared that begged clarification. Dr. Ditmore answered that call.

The tendency to treat trafficking and prostitution as if they were the same thing has a long and problematic history. Legislation and social discussion have often blurred or denied any difference, but that has always made things worse rather than better for those involved.

The trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is undeniably a gross abuse of human rights. Like all trafficking, it involves coercion or trickery or both. Sex trafficking is an odious forms of trafficking, but it is far from the only one. Men, women and children are also — and more commonly — trafficked routinely for purposes of household and farm labor as well as sweatshop manufacturing. Their lives may be less media-genic than those of sex trafficking victims, but they are no less brutal, dangerous and degraded.

Sex Work, Trafficking: Understanding the Difference

Sanity, via comments following the story, is greatly appreciated!