Queens Prosecutor Is Wrong About Human Trafficking and Arresting Johns

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact: Kaytlin Bailey, Communications Director
kaytlin@dswork.org (m) 919-649-7725

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
May 25, 2020

Queens Prosecutor Is Wrong About Human Trafficking and Arresting Johns

On Monday, May 18, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced the creation of the Human Trafficking Bureau to “prosecute sex and labor traffickers” and purchasers of sexual services. Criminalizing clients reflects a willful refusal to distinguish between adult consensual sex work and trafficking. Human rights organizations, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and a growing number of policy experts agree that a more effective policy would be to fully decriminalize adult prostitution and focus law-enforcement efforts on instances of criminal labor trafficking — both in and out of the sex industry.

“As someone who has spent my legal career working with survivors of trafficking and people in the sex industry, I’m continually frustrated that prosecutors like Katz conflate human trafficking and adult consensual sex work,” says Melissa Sontag Broudo, legal director at Decriminalize Sex Work, a national advocacy organization.

Prosecutors can only effectively combat real trafficking when they acknowledge that the majority of sex workers and their clients are adults engaging in negotiated, voluntary exchange. Studies confirm that criminalizing clients increases violence against sex workers. For example, Northern Ireland criminalized clients in 2015, and a 2019 review by its own Department of Justice revealed sex workers felt less safe than before the law passed because of a surge of antisocial behavior directed at them.

Katz inherited a long legacy in Queens related to this issue. In 2008, the Queens Criminal Court pioneered the first-ever “Human Trafficking Intervention Court” (HTIC) to provide services to individuals in the sex industry. While there was no dedicated trafficking unit within the DA’s office, there were numerous dedicated prosecutors who worked on this issue.

“I have practiced in the HTIC, and while the feeling is quite supportive and compassionate, the underlying problem is that my clients should not have been forced into the criminal justice system to get social services. The entire foundational principle of these courts further disempowers victims. Why are we arresting sex workers or victims of human trafficking? The conflation of prostitution and trafficking predates these courts, but the HTICs effectively institutionalized it. Now Katz is continuing to pursue rhetoric and policies that will inevitably hurt those they claim to help,” says Sontag Broudo.

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Decriminalize, For Public Health

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact: Kaytlin Bailey, Communications Director
kaytlin@dswork.org (m) 919-649-7725

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
May 15, 2020

Decriminalize, For Public Health

Yesterday, UNAIDS, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime called on global leaders “to make detention a last resort, to close drug rehabilitation detention centers and to decriminalize sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and drug use.

Decriminalize Sex Work, a national advocacy organization, is calling on states and cities to follow the UN’s recommendations and stop policing prostitution-related crimes immediately, as a matter of public health.

Global health experts are urging us to release as many people as possible from incarceration to reduce our collective susceptibility to this pandemic. High-density prisons spread disease amongst inmates, visitors, and employees. Guards and other essential staff bring the virus back home to their families, who then spread it around the community. You don’t need to know a single incarcerated person to want to reduce prison and jail density for your own safety. A simple way to start is by decriminalizing consensual adult sexual activities.

This is a matter of public health and safety. Melissa Broudo, policy director for Decriminalize Sex Work, says “Arresting adults for negotiated, consensual sex has always been a human rights violation for those arrested, but this global pandemic has really shown us how these arrests put all of us at risk.”

Kaytlin Bailey, communications director for Decriminalize Sex Work says “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Decriminalizing prostitution improves the health and safety of communities.”

The urgent call for action has never been clearer. Release nonviolent offenders from prison and stop arresting people for adult consensual prostitution.

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Leader of Mexico Sex-Worker Group Dies of COVID-19

May 5, 2020

This month, DSW honors Jaime Montejo, one of the founding members of the Elisa Martinez Street Brigade to Support Women; the sex worker support organization can be credited with decriminalizing sex work in Mexico City. Montejo dedicated his life to uplifting the sex workers of Mexico City. Early this month he died after contracting COVID-19.

Fellow activists and community members continue Montejo’s critical work, fighting for the rights and dignity of all people, even as they mourn his devastating loss.

In a Los Angeles Times article, Kate Linthicum reported that just last month, Jaime was in downtown Mexico City with co-workers from the Street Brigade. Wearing a surgical mask, Montejo and his co-founders, Elvira and Rosa Icela Madrid, brought meals, face covers, and tarps to sex workers who had seen their livelihoods disappear overnight as a result of the pandemic. Unable to find clients, workers were forced out of the $5/night hotels they had been living in and set up a makeshift camp near the subway station.

Montejo and the Madrid sisters met as students together at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, studying prostitution in Mexico City’s red-light district in the 1980s. Their research coincided with the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Mexico. Sex workers were dying at alarming rates, while being subjected to regular violence at the hands of police, managers, partners, and criminals posing as clients. The trio resolved to make things better. Upon graduation, they set up an advocacy group in the La Merced neighborhood of the city to help workers access healthcare services and contraception and to file reports when they were harassed or assaulted.

They founded the Street Brigade in 1993, named for a sex worker who passed away from complications of AIDS. The organization helps both trafficking survivors — who want to exit the trade — and consensual adult sex workers in need of support. Their advocacy led to a 2014 victory when a judge in Mexico City ruled that prostitutes should be recognized as non-salaried workers, allowing them to access certain benefits. In 2019, city lawmakers effectually decriminalized sex work altogether.

At his memorial, one transgender woman remembered how Montejo’s work had given her a family after she was kicked out of her house at 14 for wearing girls’ clothing. The crowds that gathered to honor him maintained “a healthy distance,” unable to embrace in their grief. Instead, they wrote notes to him and his fellow co-founders and left the notes next to the memorial.

A photograph of Jaime Montejo is displayed at his memorial in Mexico City. (Photo: Kate Linthicum/Los Angeles Times, 2020)

Members of the Street Brigade celebrate Jaime’s life by dancing at his memorial. (Photo: Kate Linthicum/ Los Angeles Times, 2020)

Wisconsin Judge Grants Strip Clubs Eligibility for Federal Funds

May 1, 2020

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of four Wisconsin strip club owners who were denied eligibility to apply for SBA loans through the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The plaintiffs were told by their banks that they were ineligible to apply for emergency federal aid due to the “prurient sexual nature” of their businesses. Unable to make payroll, their employees were left without a safety net during a global crisis, but strip clubs are pushing back against this discriminatory clause within SBA regulations.

The prurient clause, established in federal law in 1996, states that businesses presenting “live performances of a prurient sexual nature” or directly or indirectly deriving gross revenue from sexually prurient products, services, depictions, or displays, are ineligible for SBA loans. SBA’s PPP is designed to cover small businesses’ payrolls and other expenses for eight weeks during the stay-at-home order.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that the club owners are indeed eligible for loans under the PPP. The four plaintiffs — Camelot Banquet Rooms Inc., Downtown Juneau Investments LLC, Midrad LLC, and PPH Properties I LLC — argued that the 1996 regulation violates free speech and the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge did not grant the injunction on the grounds of the regulations’ unconstitutionality. Instead, Adelman’s ruling determined that the CARES Act did not specify that any industries should be denied loans based on the nature of their services. Because the plaintiffs engage in non-obscene businesses that comply with federal, state, and local law, and the PPP is a new, COVID-19 specific loan program, the 1996 regulation is neither specific to this program, nor does it serve a reasonable purpose. 

“These businesses must make payroll and pay rent and utility bills, just like any other business. Their contributions to the national economy are no different than the contributions made by small businesses in other industries,” the judge concluded. Adelman also suggested that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in arguing that their businesses were not sexually prurient. This regulation has “singled them out for unfavorable treatment based solely on the content of their speech,” violating their First Amendment rights.

A similar case brought in Michigan has yet to be determined.

Strip clubs and other sex related businesses aren't the only ones to challenge SBA guidelines related to excluding "prurient" businesses. Payday lenders, cleaning crews, and lobbyists have also filed lawsuits to receive aid. (Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post, 2020)

Federal Judge Lynn S. Adelman in WI issued the positive court ruling. (Photo: Wisconsin Law Journal, 2015)