The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in NYC has put out a legislative agenda for 2009. SWP is suggesting a number of actions you can take to help. If you live in New York State please call, write, or email your representatives and/or write a letter to the editor of a local paper. If you are a sex worker (or if you do not identify that way but are otherwise directly impacted by NY State laws related to what might broadly be called “sex work”) and would like to share your experience with existing New York law or thoughts on how proposed laws might affect you anonymously with legislators, you can write to email@example.com. In any case please spread the word!
Here is the legislative agenda from SWP for 2009:
PLEASE ASK YOUR LEGISLATORS TO SUPPORT THESE BILLS
- STOP PUNISHING POSSESSION OF CONDOMS! Support the No Condoms as Evidence Bill (A3856, S1289): This bill would stop police and prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence that they engaged -or intended to engage- in prostitution. Currently, police and courts use the fact that a person has or is carrying condoms to prove that they are engaging in criminal activity. Sex workers report that they are more likely to be arrested if they carry condoms, and sex work venues are more likely to be raided if there are condoms on the premises. Police officers regularly confiscate condoms from people they allege are engaged in prostitution to use as evidence at trial. As a result people are hesitant to carry condoms to protect themselves and others, for fear that it will lead to arrest or be held against them in court. Sound public health policy would encourage condom use by eliminating the fear that carrying a condom will be used against you by police or in a court of law.
- RAPE IS RAPE – NO MATTER WHO THE VICTIM IS! Support the Rape Shield Reform Bill (A6293, S2668): This bill would stop rape victims from being questioned about past convictions for prostitution. Currently, sex workers – and those who are profiled as sex workers – are excluded from the protections of the “rape shield law,” which generally protects victims of rape from being interrogated about their sexual histories and practices. Allowing for questioning of rape victims about past prostitution convictions implies that sex workers cannot be raped or should not be believed when they say they have been raped. In reality, sex workers are raped at rates consistent with, or higher than, national averages. Our government should protect all rape victims from being put on trial when they come forward to seek justice in the courts.
- A FRESH START FOR TRAFFICKING VICTIMS! Support the Vacating Convictions Bill (A7670): Unfortunately, when people are trafficked (forced, threatened, or coerced) into prostitution, they are also often arrested and convicted of prostitution-related offenses – without the police or the courts recognizing that they need help. Even after escaping their abusers, it is hard for people who have been trafficked into sex work to start a new life with a long “rap sheet” of prostitution convictions, which have many consequences for access to housing, employment, ability to obtain professional licenses, and even parental rights. This bill would allow victims of trafficking to clear their records and start fresh.
PLEASE ASK YOUR LEGISLATORS TO OPPOSE THESE BILLS:
- NO BRANDING OF LEGAL SEX WORKERS! Oppose the “Sex Performer” Registration Bill (A06476): This bill would require workers in “adult” establishments to register with government authorities in order to be able to engage in legal forms of sex work. This would result in sex workers being branded as “sex performers” by the government – which could affect their ability to obtain government benefits, employment, or housing, and could increase their vulnerability to violence, extortion, and interference with parental rights. Although aimed at curbing trafficking into sex work, such an initiative could actually increase vulnerability to trafficking, as it would push undocumented workers further underground and away from help by driving them into criminalized forms of sex work. The rights of workers at strip clubs and other adult businesses need to be respected and enforced, rather than subjecting them to burdensome regulations that infringe on their rights and take away their privacy.
- SUPPORT SAFETY FOR SEX WORKERS – Oppose the Craigslist Bills (A2598, A264, S2212): These bills would increase penalties for promoting prostitution, especially through the internet. Many sex workers work through the internet to increase their safety and avoid street-based sex work, where they are more vulnerable to violence at the hands of police, clients, and community members. If use of the internet for the purposes of engaging in sex work is further penalized, sex workers will have fewer avenues to work more safely. Although these bills are intended to increase penalties for “pimps,” they would place many sex workers at risk for felony convictions. Sex workers often seek to work more safely by working collectively, sharing referrals, clients, and safety tips, and by hiring agents, security, and support staff, all of whom could be subject to increased penalties under these bills. The government should pursue justice against those who commit violence against sex workers under existing laws against trafficking, abuse of minors, assault, and rape, rather than increase potential penalties for sex workers trying to work more safely.
- INCREASED PUNISHMENT DOESN’T HELP ANYONE – Oppose the Increased Penalties Bill (A381): This bill would increase penalties for people convicted of prostitution more than once. Those most likely to be impacted are the sex workers who are most vulnerable to profiling, arrest, and violence – those who live and work on the street. Many transgender women are profiled as sex workers and arrested scores of times – regardless of whether or not they actually engage in sex work. Victims of trafficking are often arrested many times, until they find the power or resources to escape coercive situations. These individuals need housing, job training, and protection from profiling and police abuse, not increased penalties which just decrease rather than increase the options available to sex workers.