UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF OUR PARTNER/SISTER ORGANIZATION SEX WORKER SOLIDARITY NETWORK: RJC JOINS THE FIGHT AGAINST SEX WORKER AND IMMIGRANT OPPRESSION
Back in the 1980's, bathhouse ordinances were created by Cities to shut down gay sex bathhouses. Allegedly, their rationale was to curb the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980's. The reality is: cis straight people have always had free range to have their sexual desires fulfilled whether in the traditional, respectable way, or through a "sex club".
Claiming it as an effort to curb human trafficking, local puritanical morality domination group CLEAN UP KENNEDY ran a viscious and unfortunately successful campaign to revive the bathhouse ordinance to target immigrant-ran massage parlors in the City. The rationale was that the women in these parlors were trafficking victims. The ordinance empowered the Tampa Police Department to perform raids....which results in the women being arrested. If the women are victims of sex trafficking then why is the solution arrests? It's not about human trafficking; it's about keeping both immigrants and sex workers (and those at the intersection of) held back.
Sex workers who work in these types of environments are typically non-men of Black, Indigenous and other marginalized ethnic/race groups, immigrant, queer, trans, disabled, and otherwise unemployable or marginalized. Sometimes, there are also queer men in these environments. In addition, not every individual in these environments are sex workers and in fact may be regular massage workers. We have never verified whether or not sex work, let alone sex trafficking, is even happening! These businesses are immigrant owned though, so it still creates a disparity. Sex Worker Solidarity Network's founder, Syd Eastman, was the head of this campaign and she also served as the Outreach Coordinator for the Restorative Justice Coalition.
Despite our combined efforts, all 7 City Councilmembers approved this ordinance and since then, a number of women have been arrested for solicitician but yet not a single human trafficker has been charged.
Read our informational blog from that time:
Recently, the City of Tampa went through their first reading of a revival of a bathhouse ordinance from the 1980's. The original ordinance was crafted to allegedly combat HIV and specifically targeted members of the gay and trans communities. You may be asking yourself, why would such an ordinance be revived in today's climate? The claim from the City is to stop human trafficking.
Human trafficking is undoubtedly deplorable and is violent. No sensible individual would even debate this. However, when you dig deeper into the ordinance, and the advocacy groups fighting for it to pass, you must look at the broader impact within the ordinance.
The ordinance will aim to criminalize victims.
Although the City and the ordinance's advocates claim these efforts are to rid City of Tampa of their human trafficking dilemma, the ordinance is likely to cause more criminalization of the victims. In the past year, the police have raided these establishments and each time, they arrest women who are engaged in sex work. If the focus is on victim survival and restoration, then why, we must ask, would we arrest the victims?
Do we arrest robbery victims to prevent robbery?
If we truly want to end human trafficking then we cannot take these lazy, lackluster approaches. True transformations within society at all ends will be needed to bring forward justice for the victims--but certainly, diversion programs, arrests, jails and convictions are not the key to this transformation.
Are you still uncomfortable around the subject of sex work? Do you have conflict between your feminist beliefs, queer activism, and sex work? Let's have a friendly, firm, but real dialogue around the subject! Email us and we will offer you a non-judgmental space to discuss this at no charge: email@example.com.