Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sex Work and Sex Trafficking Are Not the Same

As you all may have already heard, Prop. K would decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco - but what needs to be talked about more is how decriminalizing prostitution will affect immigrant communities, and communities of color!

The opposition to Proposition K claims that by decriminalizing prostitution, it will allow sexual slavery and human trafficking to flourish unchecked in San Francisco. The reality is that decriminalizing prostitution is the first step towards developing a clearer, less discriminatory, and more effective anti-trafficking strategy than the one we currently have.

In the current state of sex work, there is no distinction in the eyes of the law between 1) sex work between two consenting adults, and 2) the forced abuses of sexual slavery and human trafficking. This is a fundamental problem that misleads people about sex work and prevents the development of an effective strategy of fighting sex trafficking - by criminalizing prostitution, it makes it easier for sex traffickers to hide behind the arrests of sex workers working by choice. And it allows the police to use prostitution as a scapegoat for their racist agendas.

Voluntary sex workers are arrested and prosecuted for prostitution, even though it is a consensual choice, and sometimes the only way to make ends meet. Victims of sexual slavery are threatened into silence and isolation, while their traffickers remain at large. Immigrants who are not sex workers are raided under the guise of a sex trafficking sting operation, and deported for being “illegal”. Voluntary sex workers who cross state lines are arrested for “trafficking” themselves, a felony punishable by 16-20 years in prison.

So far, there have still been no reported convictions of actual sex traffickers in San Francisco – yet statistics show that it is a flourishing $8 billion dollar international industry, with San Francisco as one of its major commercial centers. And there are continuous raids, sting operations, immigrant deportations, and racial profiling-based police harassment of voluntary sex workers and communities of color– all in the name of “saving victims of sex trafficking”. The current system is ineffective and discriminatory – and why are we arresting the people that we are claiming to help?

Immigrants, poor people, radical freaks, and communities of color have gotten caught in this perpetual cycle of systematic oppression and persecution. And again, the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor (and in prisons) - and the privileged few (white people) continue to impose their colonial values on diversity while telling us that we should be goddamn ashamed of ourselves.

Decriminalizing consensual sex work is the first step towards effectively fighting sex trafficking because it would allow for an open dialogue that distinguishes between this important difference between voluntary sex work and coerced human trafficking. It would narrow down the usual suspects to the places where sex trafficking is actually happening - therefore allowing law enforcement to focus in on finding real victims of sexual slavery and stopping their perpetrators.

It goes so much deeper than you or me or this proposition, and we need all the help we can get to get this to pass. It can be a crucial move towards untangling the chokehold of multiple oppressions and violence against sex workers and marginalized immigrant communities. Ultimately, I actually don't believe in the real effectiveness of the voting system, but in this case, I feel it's a necessary first step towards something better - at least for now until a new way of life.

And there will still be a long, long way to go, after this is said and done.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Proposition K: Decriminalize Prostitution On November's Ballot

Proposition K is an initiative that will be on San Francisco's ballot this upcoming November 4th. If it passes, Prop. K would decriminalize prostitution in the city, creating possibilities for safer and better working conditions for sex workers by bringing sex work above ground. It would improve public health for workers and their clients by allowing for open, honest dialogue with healthcare providers, as well as with one another, about what is really going on.

Sex workers would be able to unionize, or otherwise work together, to protect themselves from STIs, violence, and more. They would be able to report incidents of coersion and rape without fear of arrest. It would reallocate funding towards more productive resources such as health care, social services, and vocational training, and take emphasis away from incarceration and persecution.

It would be a historical victory for sex workers everywhere, because it would set a landmark precedence, and send the message that - hey, finally sex work is being acknowledge as a legitimate form of work!

More to come.

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