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?
According to the National Survivor Network, 50% of human trafficking survivors faced their first arrest as a juvenile. Of those, half of them faced convictions. 90% of trafficking survivors report that during their time as a trafficked victim, they experienced an arrest by the police. Around 25% of these victims were arrested 10-20 times during the span of their experience as a trafficked victim. How does arresting victims, especially multiple times, end human trafficking? Most of the arrested victims face charges such as prostitution or solicitation, yet only 40% of the surveyed victims noted that the human trafficker was also arrested. When the human trafficker was arrested, they were never charged with any human trafficking charges and in many cases, their charges were dropped.
Surveyed victims also noted to the National Survivor Network that they were often coerced into testifying against their trafficker and other victims as condition of receiving victim assistance from the state programs. A CUNY study titled "Criminalization of Trafficking Victims" noted a similar pattern.
In fact, according to the CUNY study, in 2012, as a result of police raids, 2,962 individuals were arrested for prostitution, whereas only 34 individuals were arrested for human trafficking related charge in New York.
The ordinance will further disenfranchise communities.
It is no secret that in the United States, a criminal conviction can severely impact your livelihood. Victims of trafficking who face conviction are forced to live with unimaginable barriers for the duration of their lives. The National Survivor Network noted that 70% of trafficking victims who were convicted were unable to expunge their criminal convictions, even after establishing their victimhood.
Limiting access to employment, housing, education, federal and state benefits and other factors only creates economic distress, disenfranchisement and further marginalization and is not effective to protecting victims.
The ordinance will only enable sex traffickers.
The largest component of irony of this ordinance is that it would actually further enable sex traffickers rather than eliminate them. As detailed above, convicted victims find themselves struggling to find employment. Branded with a harmful criminal record, victims are often left with no choice but to seek work in the trafficking trades indefinitely.
There are countless personal accounts and compelling research that shows that a criminal record serves to further marginalize and relegate individuals into a second class citizenry status, and as such, often results in individuals resorting to criminal behavior to survive.
The ordinance will waste taxpayer resources.
The added bureaucracy imposed on the businesses for the licensing and registrations are certainly a great tool of revenue for the City. In addition, utilizing the police force to perform raids and reviews of the suspected bathhouses will come at a cost.
Ultimately, however, as the "Criminalization of Trafficking Victims" study shows, these raids are ineffective and do nothing to curb human trafficking.
So, why should our taxpayer dollars go to this resource when we could instead allocate resources to programs designed to help victims at their own self-determination.
The ordinance will uphold institutional racism and discrimination.
Many sex workers and human trafficking victims alike are from already marginalized communities, such as black, brown and indigenous communities, immigrants, trans, queer, poor or disabled.
Many victims of human trafficking, in the sex trade and labor trade alike, are people of color.
Ultimately, the Restorative Justice Coalition and the Sex Worker Solidarity Network stand strong against human trafficking. Although members of Clean Up Kennedy have proclaimed that our activism exists only because we benefit from human trafficking (pictured below)--the opposite is true. A truly restorative justice approach to human trafficking is vital to actually ending the crisis. At no time in the history of this country, has overpolicing, criminalizing or stigmatizing anyone resulted in a positive, transformative change within society.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.