The following is written in response to a sensational anti-sex worker story carried by WPRI 12 news titled Police: Human Trafficking Happens in Every RI Community and written by Kim Kalunian. Bella Robinson is head of Coyote RI, an organization dedicated to ending hate crimes against sex workers and stigmatizing of consenting adult sexual activities under any circumstances by both the state and civic institutions.
Morrissey worked the streets until she was 30. She said she was addicted to heroin, stripping, and turning between 10 and 20 tricks a day, every day. It went on for 13 years. In 2015, Rhode Island lawmakers passed legislation to increase prison time for those convicted of human trafficking. Now Sweeney and Iacone want to see increased penalties for the “Johns,” the men who pay for sex. Currently, Iacone and Sweeney said, most of the suspects convicted of paying for elicit acts receive probation; they want harsher sentences. “We have to go after the demand,” Iacone argued. “If there’s no demand there’s not going to be this epidemic.” Sweeney and Iacone said most of the time the Johns come from upper- or middle-class homes. They have families. They have disposable income. The victims come from various communities.
First off, Morrissey isn’t a trafficking victim, she admits that she consented to be a street-based worker to support her heroin addiction. This stigmatizing article is written to portray all sex workers as addicts. The only trafficking that has occurred in Rhode Island is a few dozen minors who engage in survival sex because our foster care system is broken, with the 320 unlicensed foster homes and the four children that have died in state care so far this year. Federal law states that all minors involved in prostitution are sex trafficking victims even if there is no pimp or market facilitator.
Notice none of them can talk about economic inequality, lack of affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage. Rather than create services and address poverty they want to make purchasing sexual services from adults felonies. How does that help “people involved in the sex industry”?
The fact that sex workers can make several hundred dollars a hour and are able to put food on the table seems to piss people off.
Coyote RI partnered with the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice at Brown University and conducted research on the real lives and experiences of 62 RI sex workers from 2014-2016. 24% of the participants reported having been robbed, raped or assaulted by police officers, 14% had been to grad school and 77% said that they would never report violence due to fear of arrest and outing their coworkers.
So the government’s irresponsible response is to make it more dangerous for sex workers by stigmatizing them and isolate them from their communities. There is a huge increase of 18 and 19 year-olds being charged with sex trafficking and getting long prison sentences. Do you know who are the clients of sex workers? Correctional officers from the ACI, military men from the Naval base, doctors, attorneys, politicians and school administrators!
Topeka Teen With Violent Pimp Faces More Than 10 Years in Prison for Sex Trafficking Kansas CPS said Anthony Long was to stay far away from then 16-year-old Hope Zeferjohn. He didn’t listen. Now she’s being treated as his accomplice.
Have no doubt this is the new War On Drugs and it will be policed in poor communities because the “End The Demand” stings won’t be happening on Federal Hill.
So ask yourself how does persecuting the clients of adult sex workers stop sex trafficking of minors? IT DOESN’T, but it does create lots of jobs for white privileged people that is paid for by our tax dollars.
Now ask yourself why the only service that is available in RI for “people involved in the sex industry” is being dumped in a shelter and that is if there is a bed available. They expect sex workers to go along with being abandoned in a shelter to live in extreme poverty in a shelter. They are not going to pay their rent or feed their kids.
Ironically just 2 weeks ago I called Sojourner House and tried to get a bed for a sex worker who has PTSD and became homeless. Amazingly she was told that there was a waiting list. This is shocking beings that RI has never had an adult victim of sex trafficking, so who are they filling the beds up with?
When service providers go along on prostitution stings they only create more distrust with “people involved in the sex industry”. Sex workers report that when they wont play the victim that the service providers become hostile, aggressive and abusive and they feel this experience traumatized them more than anything that they encountered doing sex work. The fact is these trafficking NGOs are profiting off the criminalization of prostitution while they do NOTHING to help lift sex workers out of poverty. Only 15% of all sex workers work the streets so portraying them all as drug addicts only promotes stigma and violence against them and isolates them from their community and it creates more barriers for this population to access services. Of course the only service they have is a bed in a shelter and a rescue sandwich.
Why does anyone think that being dumped in a shelter is better than making $200-300 bucks an hour?
I notice the radio went dead over headlines like this. These are the same people that are suppose to be PROTECTING OUR YOUTH.
All the EVIDENCE shows that criminalization creates the perfect playground for bad cops and predator to rob, rape and exploit sex workers with impunity.
Have no doubt, US sex workers are coming for their rights.
Why did we have to rally around West Virginia escort who killed a serial killer with his own gun and thus saved tons of other sex workers from being murdered? We raised Heather $14k in four days because she wanted to exit the sex industry!
Why is it SWOP BEHIND BARS is the only organization supporting sex workers who are incarcerated by creating community with them, helping access reentry services, while providing correspondence classes to sex workers who are incarcerated?
Exploiting people involved in the sex industry and calling it rescue while you profit is what we call RESCUE PIMPS and POVERTY PIMPS.
Since rarely is their an evil pimp or trafficker to arrest we are now seeing a HUGE INCREASE of 18 and 19 year olds being charged with trafficking.
You might find this youth study interesting. They interviewed 1000 youths in 6 US cites who were 14 to 24 yrs old, over 90% said that they didn’t have pimps or market facilitators and that they taught each other how to find clients while avoiding the police and social workers and that they were not able to access shelter or any other vital service from the state. So if we want to reduce minors involved in survival sex the state needs to step up and create services that support our youth!
I hope in the future that you might actually talk to some current sex workers, rather than listen to the same old lies that the police tell and the NGOs who PROFIT off our criminalization. Most clients report that they would never contact a escort under 30 years of age, so portraying them all as sexual deviants who are looking for 15 yr old is PROBLEMATIC and UNTRUE.
If you talk to actual sex workers, they will explain how the police have sex with us and then arrest us. This is state sponsored rape, when you use force, coercion and fraud it is sex trafficking. So why is it OK for the police to traffic sex workers?
“In many US states, it is technically legal for undercover cops to have sex with sex workers during the course of anti-prostitution sting operations. Advocates argue this is nothing less than institutional rape.”
Now lets take a look at who the real predators are, after all we know that 96% of sexual abuse on children happens by someone the child already knows, like teachers, coaches, priests cops and family members. There seems to be a epidemic of police officers sexual assaulting children, but nobody is advocating more laws to punish them.
So now ask yourself this, even if “end the demand” were to work (which we all know it won’t) why is it nobody cares if sex workers can pay their rent and feed their kids? Are they just supposed to go live in the streets and not complain, like good little women?
The trafficking nonprofit organization is the biggest sector growth since the 2009 recession other than low paying jobs, we spend over $676 million a year “creating awareness” and NOTHING is spend on helping lift poor communities out of poverty!
Bella Robinson (Coyote RI ) takes on the NH Criminal Justice and Safety Committee in support of NH HB287 (around minute 56)
Here you can hear the sub committee admit that they voted without reading the 100 letters in support of NH HB287
From 2016, NH Rep Edwards explains to the house how they cheated to kill NH HB 1614
Finally the RI research was mimicked after the research Tara Burns conducted in Alaska, and we are not surprised that the data is very similar.
Maybe we should be asking who is going to protect sex workers from the police and the trafficking NGOs who exploit them in the name of rescue.
RESCUE IS NEVER HANDCUFFS
My name is Bella Robinson and I am the executive director of the RI chapter of Coyote. I have presented at 7 New England universities that recognized me as an expert on trafficking and sex work. I would be happy to help educate you on the topic and I am willing to do an interview with you.