DSW Supports the Fight Against FOSTA in U.S. Court of Appeals

September 20, 2019

Earlier this year, DSW filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit brought against the U.S. government by the Woodhull Freedom Foundation (WFF), Human Rights Watch, The Internet Archive, and two other plaintiffs in reaction to the terrible federal law known as the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA). FOSTA chills speech and harms sex workers. It makes it harder for people to protect themselves from violence and personal risk and violates constitutional rights protected by the First Amendment.

The court wrongly dismissed the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs appealed. After a year of fighting for the case to be heard, DSW and our plaintiff allies finally got our day in court: On September 20, attorneys for WFF and the other plaintiffs addressed a panel of three appellate judges. They asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to halt the future enforcement of FOSTA, meaning that ideally, people would no longer be arrested.

Kaytlin Bailey attended the hearing on September 20. No decision has been issued at this time, and it may take months for the appellate court to rule. WFF was joined by fellow plaintiffs from SWOP Behind Bars, related organizations, and brave individuals who put their reputations and livelihoods on the line by articulating for the courts how FOSTA/SESTA has impacted them. The current position of the federal government is that issues of free speech, sex worker safety, and trafficking are not impacted by FOSTA/SESTA — and that the law simply disrupts trafficking without endangering individual rights or safety.

After the oral arguments attorneys, plaintiffs, and advocates, including Bailey, gathered for a debriefing. Learn more about the case in a Peepshow Podcast interview with Ricci Levy. Our coalition is waiting for the judges’ decision. No matter the outcome, we will continue to fight this transparently unconstitutional law.

DSW’s Kaytlin Bailey is pictured with Ricci Levy, WFF’s CEO, president and former executive director, named the lead plaintiff in the Woodhull v. USA case, as well as the team from Davis Wright Tremain Law Firm, litigating the suit. (L to R: Larry Walter, Ricci Levy, Robert Corn-Revere, Kaytlin Bailey and Ronald G London; Photo: DSW, 2019)

DSW Attends International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference

September 5, 2019

DSW attended the International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference in Toledo, Ohio. The conference has been an annual event since 2004, bringing together researchers, survivors, allies, and service practitioners to exchange expertise and ideas and collaborate on future initiatives to fight human trafficking and social injustice worldwide. As anti-trafficking work is central to DSW’s mission, we were excited to attend and inspired by the amazing work that so many of our allies are doing.

This year’s conference hosted attendees from 42 states and 30 countries, laying the groundwork for action in the social service, health care, and criminal justice fields. DSW’s general counsel, Melissa Broudo, represented our harm reduction advocacy efforts on behalf of human trafficking survivors and sex workers across the globe.

At this year’s conference, we were honored to be able to support Jill McCracken, Ph.D., Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies at the University of South Florida and the co-founder/co-director of Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Behind Bars as she received the 2019 Influential Scholar Award. Dr. McCracken presented her research on how decriminalization of prostitution helps to fight violence and trafficking in the sex industry. The seminar centered on a community based participatory research project with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective. Following the decriminalization of prostitution in 2003, three months of fieldwork produced interviews with 33 sex workers and 34 service providers, clients, and health professionals.

Dr. McCracken presented data on how decriminalization specifically addresses harms; examples of individual sex workers and communities recognizing, preventing, or resisting violence; how they recover from it; how sex workers are able to control their work to greater or lesser degrees; legislative recommendations based on the perspectives of impacted individuals; and future areas of exploration. The audience walked away with an understanding of the stark and important differences between consensual sex work and trafficking, a greater understanding of different legislative models related to sex work, how said models affect violence, and a picture of decriminalization in New Zealand and its day-to-day impacts.

DSW tabled with SWOP Behind Bars, an ally that provides interdisciplinary community support for incarcerated sex workers in the US, as well as other fellow organizations working to fight sex trafficking through criminal reforms. Anti-trafficking and harm reduction is at the heart of DSW’s work, and we were honored to collaborate with such amazing individuals and organizations promoting the health and safety of sex workers worldwide.

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo poses with Dr. Jill McCracken after the latter was presented with the 2019 Influential Scholar Award for her work on decriminalization of sex work, anti-trafficking and harm reduction. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo, Alex Andrews and Jill McCracken, PhD, of SWOP Behind Bars, and Danielle Bastian, LCSW, table at the conference. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

DSW information at the SWOP Behind Bars table at the conference (Photo: DSW, 2019)

L to R: DSW’s Melissa Broudo and Logan Dee of We Are Dancers USA catch up and take a selfie the first day of the conference. (Photo: DSW, 2019)

Historic Prison Reform in NYC

September 5, 2019

DSW joined a crowd gathered outside NYC’s city hall to attend a hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inner-borough jail expansion plan. Although the city council’s Criminal Justice committee had invited DSW’s Melissa Broudo to testify, she decided to let allies closer to the issue speak at the hearing. Nevertheless, we felt honored to participate in this historic moment in NYC’s criminal justice history. The hearing followed the City Planning Commission’s 9-3 vote to approve the mayor’s contested proposal, first laid out in 2017, pushing it into the final stage of the city’s land use review process.

The multi-billion-dollar plan would shutter Rikers Island, a sure victory for human rights and criminal justice reform in New York City, and follows efforts to reduce the city’s incarcerated population from 7,400 to 4,000 by 2026 using criminal justice reforms. De Blasio believes his plan will bring New York “one step closer to closing Rikers Island and creating a smaller, safer, fairer jail system … bringing people back to their communities and families,” helping to combat recidivism and mass incarceration. However, designs to construct new 1,150-bed jails in four of the city’s five boroughs have raised concerns from community members, social justice activists and borough presidents over the location of the new prisons, continued police abuse and an overall lack of engagement with communities in drafting the plan.

Close Rikers Now is a NYC grassroots campaign that has fought long and hard against a broken prison system in New York City and its history of violence and abuse against largely minority inmates. The organization supports the mayor’s plan, with caveats, while others, like No New Jails NYC, oppose it on the grounds that the new plan will replace one broken system with another. Brittany Williams, a community organizer for the organization, is quoted in The New York Times asserting that “the city has failed for decades to hold themselves accountable for how people are being treated once they are incarcerated.” There is also concern over the lack of legally binding mechanisms to ensure follow-through on the shuttering of Rikers, and the historic 75% decrease in the New York’s incarcerated population, after Mayor De Blasio leaves office. 

At the protests outside of city hall, DSW Project Manager Frances Steele stood with the No New Jails Coalition as they chanted “If they build them, they will fill them.” Sex workers’ rights are incredibly relevant to the issues raised by the current jail system debate in New York. DSW is encouraged by the decarceration efforts and community activism taking place across the city. We support the commitment to give New York City residents in all five boroughs the justice, health and safety they deserve and end mass incarceration.

Demonstrators from No New Jails NYC stand outside City Hall on Sept. 5 to protest Mayor DeBlasio’s borough-based jail system plan. (Photo: Frances Steele/DSW, 2019)

Charges were brought that capacities at the hearings were kept purposefully low to keep out protestors against the construction of the new prison system. (Photo: Elizabeth Kim/Instagram, 2019)

Could Britain Be Next?

August 26, 2019

What we can learn from public support of full decriminalization in the United Kingdom

There is renewed debate among Members of Parliament, unions, and human rights and anti-trafficking groups concerning sex work policy reforms. A study conducted by RightsInfo, a U.K. Human Rights Advocacy Organization, found recently that 49% of the British public would support decriminalization legislation. As the law stands, buying and selling sex among adults is not a crime in the U.K.—but the law does prohibit public solicitation, owning or managing brothels, or any organization between sex workers.

Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP and chair of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, announced in July that she intended to table a bill that had been proposed. The bill would have amended the “complex, confusing and inconsistently applied” laws on sex work in the U.K. But current U.K. law is out of step with public opinion. Niki Adams of the English Collective of Prostitutes, a group that is dedicated to advocating for decriminalization, reports that the public is “horrified that sex workers suffer so much violence and understand that the prostitution laws, which force women to work in isolation,” increase the dangers that they face from clients, pimps, and others. In 2015, a poll conducted by YouGov found that 54% percent of the public would support full decriminalization provided it were consensual. The latest poll reinforces these findings, gauging more specific support for the decriminalization of “brothel-keeping” (49% in favor) and street prostitution (44% in favor).

Professor Teela Sanders, criminology expert at the University of Leicester, criticizes sex work laws in the U.K. that do not reflect the “more liberal attitudes towards sexuality” reflected by popular surveys. She suggests that “if politicians were brave enough to think about the impracticalities of current laws and how damaging they are, then there would not be a backlash.” Currently, about 72,800 sex workers live in the U.K. Laws “prevent sex workers from working together in safety … criminalizing vulnerable women [which] contributes to the underreporting of a wide range of crimes committed against sex workers and other community members,” says Dr. Rosie Campbell, OBE, from York University. In the last three years, there have been 186 prosecutions and 177 convictions for brothel-keeping, 54% of which were against women. In the same period, there were 915 prosecutions and 814 convictions for street solicitation. The majority of these convictions targeted women.

The U.K. example makes it clear that sex work law affects us all. Decriminalization is an intersectional issue that touches on body autonomy, workers’ rights, gender and racial equality, and public health. The role of government is to protect the rights, health, and safety of individuals and communities, not to criminalize and endanger consenting adults with false moral claims; popular opinion recognizes this. In the U.S., we have a long way to go. But we can look to the positive changes in places like New Zealand, and even the U.K., who have taken steps towards decriminalization, for our path forward.

Activists from the English Collective of Prostitutes demonstrate against legislation that coerces women into working alone in their Make All Women Safe campaign. (Photo: Jake Hall/Vice UK, 2019)

Statistics on sex worker and public opinion in the U.K. (Image: RightsInfo.org, 2019)

Dancers Unite! Historic Legislation on Stripper Labor Rights Passed in Minneapolis

August 23, 2019

The Minneapolis City Council unanimously passed a historic ordinance that has increased the labor rights of strippers in the city. The law now includes, but is not limited to: banning management from extorting tips from dancers, mandating contracts provided by dancers, requiring sexual harassment training for management, and preventing management and security with a history of domestic violence from working in clubs. The legislation is the first of its kind to be passed in the United States.

In 2017, the city’s health department launched an investigation into Minneapolis strip clubs, reporting unsanitary conditions in many downtown locations. Simultaneously, reports authored by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University at Mankato found that many workers had concerns about safety in clubs, particularly in one-on-one customer interactions. Early proposals by the council included banning VIP rooms and requiring all performers to be club employees. Councilmember Cam Gordon reached out to entertainers and found that “those were two things they absolutely wanted preserved, for very good reasons.”

Dancers organized and called for their rights. Using participatory action research, Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) Minneapolis and a research team at MSU conducted a needs assessment to understand the experiences and perspectives of workers in strip clubs. They identified prominent themes to protect dancers from exploitation and improve safety and health measures for everyone. The coalition presented to the city council and the health department on August 12, and the ordinance was approved on August 23.

The ordinance’s passage is a huge step in prioritizing labor rights of sex workers, and DSW is excited about its implications for the country as a whole. In a Minnesota Public News article, Jane Swyft of SWOP describes how stigma and dehumanization affect even legal sex workers: “When erotic dance is treated as a public embarrassment, workers find very little help in their struggles with an exploitative pay structure, racist management or harassment.” Many dancers may still choose to share tips with management and security, but this bill prevents it from being compulsory.

Congratulations to the beautiful community of sex workers and allies in Minneapolis, showing the world that grassroots activism works.

Activists, including dancers and allies, show their support for the ordinance in the Minneapolis City Council’s chambers at the public hearing on August 12. (Photo: Matt Sepic/MPR News, 2019)

Dancers and allies show their support after the passage of the bill on August 23. Strippers in Minneapolis will now have access to unprecedented labor rights to protect their health and safety in clubs, relationships with clients and management. (Photo: We Are Dancers USA, 2019)