Posted: Sat, Apr. 7, 2012, 3:00 AM I would have been dead
By Whitney Englander
EDITOR’S NOTE: Whitney Englander fell out of a tree in her native Oregon when she was 12 years old, suffering a severe concussion that led to blinding migraines controlled by powerful painkillers. An attempt to wean herself from prescription narcotics after college backfired. She ended up managing the pain with street drugs. In 2004, she overdosed on heroin.
“If my boyfriend had not had naloxone I would have died in an abandoned warehouse,” Englander, 32, said in an interview. The experience started her on a path to recovery.
She wrote the following commentary after a United Nations organization endorsed a resolution supporting the use of naloxone by medical personnel to reverse opiate overdoses, which is the standard of care in the United States. The UN resolution does not address the use of naloxone by lay people trained in community programs, which is the the focus of a Food and Drug Administration workshop on April 12.
My family does not have to face every holiday, every birthday, every joyous occasion with the heartache of having lost a child, a sister - me. My family was spared a lifetime of regrets, questions and the unimaginable pain of losing a part of themselves. Because I survived a drug overdose.
At a March meeting in Vienna, Austria, the member states of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) came to unanimous consensus to pass a sweeping overdose prevention resolution with the potential to affect millions of lives worldwide. The resolution urges countries to incorporate overdose prevention strategies into their national drug policies and to adopt the standard of care proven to reduce death by opioid overdose. Most importantly, the resolution affirms the urgent need to address a global epidemic that is, in most cases, preventable.
The emotion in the room was palpable as the resolution was being passed. I held each breath as member states debated a few punctuation marks, a few words, and then suddenly, the resolution passed.
It is unthinkable that in some parts of the world the medication naloxone, which safely and dependably reverses the deadly effects of opioid overdose, is not available to those whose lives depend on it. Whether the medication is withheld because of misinformation, lack of education, or at worst, because of the belief that some lives aren’t worth saving, the results are the same. Without naloxone, people die when they could have been saved.
I happen to be one of those people. There was a time when my life may have seemed disposable, when others would have thought me not worth saving. Today I am proud to be a woman in long-term recovery. What that means for me is that I have not felt the need for drink or drugs for almost seven years. I am the mother of a precious baby boy, a wife, a daughter, an active community member, and a public health advocate. I have had the honor to volunteer with multiple charities, work as a public servant, and pay taxes. But the only reason I am able to do this is because eight years ago, someone I was using drugs with had naloxone. Had a fellow drug user not had the tool on hand to revive me, there is a strong likelihood that my breathing would not have been restored, my heart would have stopped, and I would have died in an abandoned warehouse at the age of 24.
My experience is not unique. A recent article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 10,000 reversals like mine in the United States, where naloxone was administered by non-medical bystanders witnessing an overdose. Naloxone has been used for decades in operating rooms and emergency rooms and by paramedics. Politics should not stand in the way of safe and effective medication that saves lives, but sadly it often does when the lives of drug users are concerned.
The great triumph of the UN’s overdose resolution was the ease and lack of controversy in which it was passed. I am proud of the international community for what it achieved in Vienna - a commitment to preserving human life.
Whitney Englander is the government relations manager for the Harm Reduction Coalition and lives in Washington, D.C.
Abbott Hepatitis C Combo Impressive in Small Study
Abbott Hepatitis C Combo Impressive in Small Study > Reuters (04.02.12)::Bill Berkrot > > A combination of oral hepatitis C drugs being developed by > Abbott Laboratories realized cure rates exceeding 90 percent in > treatment-na?ve patients, according to a small, mid-stage study. The > results, released Wednesday, will be presented later this month in > Barcelona at a meeting of the European Association for the Study of the > Liver. > For 12 weeks, patients in the Phase II trial, known as > ?Co-Pilot,? received Abbott?s protease inhibitor ABT-450, boosted by the > antiviral drug ritonavir with its polymerase inhibitor ABT-333, and > ribavirin, which is used in all current hepatitis C regimens. Patients? > blood virus levels were checked 24 weeks later for a sustained virologic > response. Those achieving SVR were considered cured. > Eighteen of the 19 patients (95 percent) given 250 milligram > doses of ABT-450 in their combination achieved SVR. Thirteen of 14 patients > (93 percent) given 150 mg doses of ABT-450 achieved SVR. > ?This demonstrates unprecedented cure rates for the most common > form of hepatitis C infection,? said Scott Brun, Abbott?s divisional vice > president for infectious disease development. Although confirming the > effectiveness and safety of the drugs requires much larger trials, Abbot > maintains it is on track to embark on Phase III testing early next year. > In a third portion of the study concentrating on patients > unresponsive to the standard regimen of interferon and ribavirin, 8 of 17 > (47 percent) achieved SVR. Abbott is hopeful an NS5A inhibitor it is > testing in several all-oral combinations will boost SVR rates of previous > non-responders. > > — > Dan Bigg, Director email@example.com > Chicago Recovery Alliance www.anypositivechange.org > 3110 W Taylor St voice 1-312-953-3797 > Chicago IL 60612 fax 1-773-489-7448
I’m a one-woman film crew and this project is very dear to my heart. Please help me continue to tell this important human rights story.
Also, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
In this documentary, 11 North Carolinians, current and former sex workers and/or advocates, share their experience with the common goal of reducing violence perpetrated against sex workers. Sex workers often do not report crimes committed against them because they do not want to incriminate themselves; criminalization of sex work protects the perpetrators. What types of violence do sex workers experience? What can sex workers do to avoid violence? What else can be done to make sex work safer?
This first video was created in six weeks in partnership with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. Funding has run out, however.
Help me create new footage showing these and other current and former sex workers in their daily lives, facing the challenges they discuss in the interviews, and to continue to edit extant footage to address sub-topics such as the philosophy behind decriminalization of sex work, using communication to avoid violence, condom use for sex workers, and transitioning out of sex work if one chooses to do so.
I recently received feedback on this work from MediaStorm’s Eric Maierson, which, when implemented, will greatly help to finesse the project. I also recently began doing volunteer work for the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, which will put me in touch with master filmmakers who can give me further direction on this work.
Sex workers are anti sex-trafficking. It seems obvious (of course they have an interest in making the industry as safe as possible), and yet you might not know this because sex workers rights activists have not gotten any air-time from the major anti-trafficking organizations……..
Event: Law Enforcement Safety & Drug Policy Summit
Event: Law Enforcement Safety & Drug Policy Summit
WHEN: June 12th, 2012
WHAT TIME IS THE EVENT: Registration starts at 8 am, and the event begins at 9 am and will go through Noon. A lunch will be served to registered guests after the summit.
WHERE: North Carolina Legislative Auditorium, 16 Jones Street, Raleigh, NC
WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Law Enforcement, Legislators, Legislative Support Staff, Public Health Officials, Lobbyists, Harm Reductionists, Drug Policy Reformers, Policy Reformers, People Who Work With Incarcerated Populations and the Substance Abuse Community
WHAT WILL BE COVERED: Law Enforcement Needlestick Reduction, Law Enforcement Safety around Drug Overdoses, Reducing Recidivism While Maintaining Public Order and Drug Policy Reform
WHO WILL BE PRESENTING: Law Enforcement Safety Experts, Law Enforcement, Drug Policy Experts and Republican & Democratic Legislators, and Conservative, Liberal & Moderate Policy Institutes
EVENT CONTACT: Robert Childs, MPH (336) 543-8050, firstname.lastname@example.org
Policy will soon be introduced that encourages police to use discretion when when applying prostitution laws and to consider less formal action in certain situations. The policy also states that the safety and security of sex workers is paramount.
This essay originally appeared in the 2012 Momentum conference anthology ebook. I know this is a bit long for Tumblr, but this is the full text of the article, and I wanted to make it available online for people who aren’t at the conference for my presentation of the same title and/or want to…
Another Member of Law Enforcement Discusses Why they Want Syringes Decriminalized in North Carolina Read more: http://www.bluenc.com/another-member-law-enforcement-discusses-why-they-want-syringes-decriminalized-north-carolina#ixzz1qKqRrktn
Another Member of Law Enforcement Discusses Why they Want Syringes Decriminalized in North Carolina
Needlesticks On The Beat An Essay by Former Policewomen Jen “Crash” Earls
As a patrol officer with the Chicago Police Department the unknown was the most dangerous enemy I ever faced. I dealt with it many times in my 8 years on the streets. But often it wasn’t the unkempt woman slumped over the steering wheel of her car at the red light. It was a well-dressed young woman with seven used needles in her expensive purse, driving a posh Lexus.
The danger came from not knowing which woman was the most dangerous. The woman at the red light had slipped into a diabetic coma. She could have hurt many people but we removed her and got her some medical help. The woman driving the expensive Lexus was looking for Heroin and ran a red light in her desperation to score. While searching her purse, I stuck my finger on a syringe. It was one of the scariest moments of my career. I didn’t know the syringe was there, I didn’t know if she had HIV/AIDS or viral hepatitis B or C.
I was a young officer working in one of the worst districts in the city for drug use and violent crime. I didn’t tell anyone about my needlestick. I put hand sanitizer and a band-aid on my wound and went about my business. When I brought the arrestee back to the station, she was starting to get drug sick and there was paperwork to finish. There was a lot to do. I understood that there wasn’t time to stop and worry about a needlestick. I didn’t understand then if I had any protections at all. I could have asked my Sergeant to fill out an exposure report. I would have had the needlestick on record at the Medical Section. I would have gotten tested and they would have offered me the prophylactic HIV/AIDS medication AZT to take for several months to decrease my risk of contracting the virus. It would have been a “big deal.” And no rookie cop wants to be a big deal in this way. Arrest a burglar, recover a kilo of dope maybe, but not because I got stuck with a dirty syringe.
When I first started, officers were expected to enforce Chapter 720 of Illinois State Statute 635/1, Illegal Possession of Hypodermic Instruments. By July of my first year, an addendum was added. Adults could purchase up to 20 needles from a pharmacy. If they carried 21 or more they needed to be enrolled in a syringe access program (a place where you can get sterile syringes and turn in your used ones) and carry an identification card. After the law change I rarely found dirty needles on searches or pat downs. Knowledge is power. As an officer I knew a lot about the law. I knew about reasonable suspicion, probable cause and the subtle differences between misdemeanors and felonies. What I didn’t have was the feeling that my department supported my health or me. If they had, I would have known the proper protocol when I was stuck. If I had broken my hand or been in a car accident I knew what to do, but not if I was exposed to a potentially life-threatening illness like HIV or viral hepatitis B or C.
My department didn’t provide masks, gloves or first aid kits to officers working the streets. We had no training on how to recover or dispose of syringes or drug paraphernalia safely. I didn’t know the simple protocol to wash my injury with soap and water after a needlestick.
I believe a combination of harm reduction education programs that teach drug users on safer syringe use and biohazard storage plus syringe decriminalization makes a vast difference in the lives of law enforcement officers. I think officers need to know how to safely handle paraphernalia (such as drug cookers, pipes and tourniquets) and syringes. They need to know when to wear needlestick resistant gloves and when to take extra precautions.
Officers also need to know their health risks. They should know what diseases are on the streets and how to spot a person who is potentially ill. In realty this is everyone because you can’t tell who has an HIV infection or viral hepatitis by looking at him or her. They must understand how to keep themselves healthy. Officers also deserve to know the percentage they risk of contracting a disease every time they handle drug paraphernalia.
Law enforcement officers statewide warrant the additional safety that syringe decriminalization legislation can provide. Statistics have repeatedly proven that increased syringe access for the public does not increase crime or drug use. The facts are that law enforcement officers will encounter drug users and syringe carriers in the course of their jobs. This is especially prevalent in North Carolina where 1 in 12 people carry needles. There are approximately 50,000 injection drug users and around 700,000 diabetics. Officers will be put in positions where they need to search subjects. They will encounter syringes and drug paraphernalia and deserve to be able to do it safely. It therefore becomes necessary to make every attempt to create the safest conditions possible for both officers and users.
The evidence also shows that shows that law enforcement chances of getting a needlestick go down by 66% with syringe decriminalization. When the fear of arrest disappears, drug users are more likely to let an officer know they are carrying needles. This is why in states like New Mexico, who have partially decriminalized syringes, see around 66% less officer needlesticks than states that have criminalized syringes such as North Carolina.
The syringe decriminalization will also keep the users healthier. If they have the option of using fresh syringes rather than sharing dirty needles, their risk for contracting or distributing diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C goes down significantly. This simple idea keeps many people safer and healthier. Officers and their families will be at much less risk for contracting terminal and severe illnesses, since infection rates among drug users on the streets have been shown to diminish when clean needles are available.
In summary, I highly recommend that the state of North Carolina and its fellow southern states decriminalize syringes. It is necessary for both the health and safety of law enforcement officer’s and the public they protect and serve.
The Negative Effects of Syringe Criminalization on Law Enforcement
The Negative Effects of Syringe Criminalization on Law Enforcement:
A Interivew with Officer Jen Earls
Written by NCHRC Staff Writer Tessie Castillo
Edited by NCHRC’s Robert Childs
Police officers risk their lives to protect our communities, but there’s one group whose safety they often overlook– themselves. Tight budgets leave many police departments unable to afford sufficient training and equipment to protect personnel from exposure to blood borne disease.
Officer Jen Earls was employed for eight years with the Chicago police department. During her time as a patrol officer and a member of rapid response and special operations teams, she constantly came in contact with dirty needles, broken crack pipes, razors, and other “sharps” that could potentially infect an officer with HIV and hepatitis C.
“We weren’t trained on how to deal with sharps and we had no biohazard containers to dispose of dirty syringes,” says Officer Earls. “A lot of police are naïve about needles, even afraid of them. I’ve seen officers let situations go because they just didn’t want to deal with needles.”
In Chicago, as in North Carolina, though law enforcement training programs teach police how to conduct searches, few show officers what to do with “sharps” or provide biohazard containers or needle-resistant gloves for protection.
“I’ve been stuck by needles and cut by broken crack pipes and razors while on duty,” says Officer Earls. “We had to search people so quickly, it was easy to touch something dangerous. If one of us got stuck, we might report it to a superior officer so he could write an exposure report, or we might not. I never sought treatment for needle-sticks because we were supposed to be tough guys, you know. We’d get cut and move on.”
Studies have shown that 1 in 3 officers will receive a needle-stick in their careers, and 28% will receive more than one. Prophylaxis treatment, which is recommended following exposure to potentially contaminated needles can lower the risk of disease transmission, but it is extremely unpleasant for officers and costly for departments (up to $30,000 per exposure). Officer training programs such as the one offered by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) train law enforcement on how officers can protect themselves from dangerous “sharps”, even if departments don’t have the money for equipment like needle-resistant gloves. These programs can reduce the incidence of disease exposure to officers and save police departments’ money that can be invested in employee benefits and new equipment.
NCHRC also works with law enforcement to advocate for syringe decriminalization. This protects officers from contaminated sharps exposures, because people being searched are more likely to admit carrying sharps if it is legal to do so. States that have done so have seen a decrease in Needlesticks by 66%. NCHRC successfully advocated for House Bill 601 to decriminalize syringes in North Carolina, which will help keep officers safe, so they can keep doing what they do best – look out for the rest of us.
“Politics and the War on Drugs,” Interview with Bob Scott, former Captain of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office
“Politics and the War on Drugs”
Interview with Bob Scott, former Captain of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office
Written by NCHRC Staff Writer Tessie Castillo
NCHRC Note: NCHRC traveled to Los Angeles the first week of November 2011 to attend the International Drug Policy Alliance Reform Conference. A big theme of the conference is addressing the war on drugs. Thus we will share some articles on the war on drugs and its effects on the people of North Carolina & our neighbors. For part 2 of our series on the war on drugs we are interviewing a member of North Carolina’s law enforcement community. The views of the people we interview are their views and do not represent the views of NCHRC. We understand some of these articles may be controversial with our audience, but this is a topic that should be explored by us who work or are affected by US drug policy.
Bob Scott, a former Captain of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, spent 15 years in law enforcement working to keep our communities safe, and he used his unique vantage point as an officer to speak out against America’s costly and ineffective war on drugs.
We know the war on drugs is expensive – 50-60 billion dollars a year to arrest, try and incarcerate millions of nonviolent offenders – and with today’s political environment of massive spending cuts to government funded programs, it may seem counter-intuitive that the billions spent on the war on drugs isn’t called into question.
We also know the war has failed. Decades ago, when the initiative began, 1.3% of Americans were addicted to drugs. Today addiction rates remain at 1.3% and drugs are cheaper and more prevalent than ever before. So why don’t politicians touting fiscal responsibility cut this wasteful spending?
“The war on drugs is all about politics,” explains Scott. “Many elected officials know the war has failed, but are afraid to speak up because they don’t want to seem ‘soft on crime’. When I worked in law enforcement I noticed that the individual police officers were often against the war on drugs, but most sheriffs supported it – as least in public. That’s because sheriff’s are elected officials and they say what they think voters want to hear, not always what is right.”
Bob Scott is involved with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of law enforcement personnel who oppose prohibition policies. “Our current laws criminalize all aspects of drug use, while ignoring the social and economic benefits of treatment,” says Scott. “Treatment for addiction is more cost effective than incarceration, and it’s better for our communities.”
Bob Scott supports harm reduction programs because they promote public health and fiscal responsibility. “Syringe exchange programs make economic sense if you think about it,” says Scott. “If people are sharing needles infected with HIV and hepatitis and they don’t have health insurance, tax payers end up with the bill for their treatment.” Studies show that medical treatment for HIV can cost up to $600,000 dollars per person, while hepatitis treatment costs from $100,000 to $500,000 per person. Compare that to the cost of a clean syringe – about 97 cents – and harm reduction just makes economic sense.
“I think it’s time to put politics aside and start looking at reality,” says Bob Scott. “We’ve so demonized drug use for political purposes that people are overlooking the social and economic costs. The war on drugs is an idea that sounds good, but it’s not a sound idea.”
 “The War at Home,” by Sanho Tree, Institute for Policy Studies. Soujourner’s Magazine. May-June 2003, p20-42.
 “Policy is Not a Synonym for Justice,” by US District Court Judge John L. Kane, Chapter 5 in The New Prohibition: Voices of Dissent Challenge the Drug War, Edited by Sheriff Bill Masters, Lonedell, MO: Accurate Press, 2004, p45.
 “The Lifetime Cost of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Care in the United States” by Schackman, Bruce, PhD, et al. Medical Care, Vol 44, Num 11, Nov 2006.
 “Interferon treatment for chronic hepatitis B or C infection: costs and effectiveness” by JB Wong. Department of Medicine, New England Medical Center, Tupper Research Institute, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111, USA
Reflections on the “Summit on Sex Work in the South”
Reflections on the “Summit on Sex Work in the South”
Sex Worker Summit Write-Up
“From the brothels to the strip clubs, from the jack shacks to the streets, criminalizing, stigmatizing has been society’s way…there’s power in a sex workers union!”
So began the first Sex Worker Summit in the South with a rousing song composed and sung by Stella Zine (watch her performance on NCHRC’s vimeowebpage), a former strip club dancer from Georgia. The song captured the spirit and message of the summit, held December 2nd in Asheville, North Carolina, which aimed to address issues of criminalization and marginalization among sex workers and to bring interested parties together to look for common solutions. The one day summit featured a diverse array of speakers, including current and retired sex workers, advocates, religious leaders, nurses, harm reduction organizations, academics, social workers, law enforcement personnel and other service providers.
The summit kicked off with personal stories from Stella Zine and Hawk Kinkaid, a retired male escort and founder of Hook Online, about why and how they got into the sex trade, and continued with a discussion by Megan McLemore of Human Rights Watch on the criminalization of sex work, particularly the alleged arrests of sex workers for carrying condoms. The morning wrapped up with Jill Brenneman’s graphic and heart-wrenching personal account of her life as a 14-year-old runaway forced into sexual slavery. Jill eventually escaped, and after many years battling post-traumatic stress disorder and health complications, turned back to sex work, this time voluntarily, to pay her mounting medical bills.
“Clients are allowed to brutalize sex workers because of the laws we have,” said Jill. “Who could I turn to when I was beaten and raped? The police? To them, I was the criminal.”
Afternoon panels included information on Kelly’s Line, an Our Voice of Asheville initiative to allow brutalized sex workers to report “bad dates” through a phone line, followed by tips for conducting outreach to sex workers, information about online escort service and social media advertising, drug use among sex workers, and how to incorporate sex worker programming into your agency or nonprofit.
With over 85 attendees from all over the South and an atmosphere of mutual respect and openness to new ideas, the summit was a success that many hope will be duplicated in years to come. NCHRC would like to thank all the summit attendees and the press and bloggers who covered the event including: NYC’s Village Voice; Asheville’s the Mountain Express; the Associated Press; ABC TV-Asheville; Franklin North Carolina’s Daily Journal; Columbus Indiana’s The Republic; Blue NC; The Daily Kos; Jessicaland; and The Honest Courtesan.
Testimonials from Summit Attendees:
“The Summit on Sex Work in the South was an amazing, energizing experience! Over and over again throughout the day I heard people say, ‘I can’t believe this is actually happening! I can’t believe it’s happening here! I can’t believe it’s happening now!’ There was a really amazing vibrancy in the room — you could feel people connecting and learning and gaining strength and community from one another.” – Loftin Wilson, NC Harm Reduction Coalition’s Organizer and Transgender Advocate.
“It’s still kind of hard to believe that this summit even took place. Sex Work in the South isn’t a topic you’ll hear too many people talking about, and you especially don’t see events focused on the topic. I hope it was the first of many such events to come, and I also hope to be there for every one!” – Jessica Land, Sex Worker Rights Advocate from Tennessee.
“How wonderful it was for me to offer the blessing at the Summit on Sex Work in the South. It is a rare opportunity to join the work of being healthy community in such a gathering of diverse and gifted people whose goal it is to care for neighbor as self and to care for the welfare of the whole community. We who participated in the spirit generated in mutual respect and shared wisdom have been reenergized to continue in our work to advocate for the safety and wellbeing of those who are engaged in sex work.” – Reverend Jenna Zirbel, Rainbow Community Cares, North Carolina.
“Everyone has human rights- including sex workers and people who exchange sex for money, favors or survival,” said Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The summit was a great opportunity to discuss ways to improve the health, safety and dignity of people whose voices need to be heard.”
A couple weeks ago, NCHRC and sex worker groups around the world on December 17th, participated in activities to mark "International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers". This event was created to bring attention to crimes committed against sex workers all over the world. According to Sex Workers Outreach Project USA, "this day was conceptualized by Annie Sprinkle and initiated by the Sex Workers Outreach Project USA as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle Washington, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers has empowered workers from cities around the world to come together and organize against discrimination and remember victims of violence. During the week of December 17th, sex worker rights organizations and their allies stage actions and vigils to raise awareness about violence that is commonly committed against sex workers. The assault, battery, rape and murder of sex workers must end. Existing laws prevent sex workers from reporting violence. The stigma and discrimination that is perpetuated by the prohibitionist laws has made violence against us acceptable. Please join with sex workers around the world and stand against criminalization and violence committed against our communities.” We at NCHRC marked the day by having Executive Director Robert Childs, our Harm Reduction Coordinator Tessie Castillo and NCHRC ally Doug Upp from Shaka Zine in Hawaii go around the streets of East Durham, providing sex workers risk reduction counseling and violence prevention information. On the marking of this day we wanted to let everyone know of a great resource available to sex workers of western North Carolina called Kelly’s line. NCHRC Harm Reduction Coordinator Tessie Castillo highlights this issue below with her interview with NCHRC ally Sarah Danforth of the Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project.
NCHRC Issue Spotlight:
Sex Worker Violence Prevention in North Carolina:
An Interview with Sarah Danforth at the Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project
Five years ago, dismembered pieces of a human body were found floating in the French Broad River in Asheville, North Carolina. Forensics identified the victim as Kelly Lane Smith, a local prostitute, and though all evidence pointed to a local man infamous for the brutalization and rape of sex workers in the area, he was never charged, never convicted, and he left Asheville a free man.
Why couldn’t an obvious suspect be convicted? Because Kelly was a prostitute. The police couldn’t get enough testimonies against the suspect from other prostitutes who had been beaten and raped by him because the women feared retribution if they admitted to engaging in sex work. Violence against prostitutes and sex workers is rampant, precisely because if and when these crimes are reported, the victim may be arrested for illegal activity, instead of the perpetrator. The dilemma is all too common.
Thankfully, some people in Asheville, like Sarah Danforth of the newly formed Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project, are trying to do something about violence against sex workers. Sarah is part of a collaborative effort between several organizations, including the Asheville Police Department, the Jail Diversion Program, the Western NC AIDS Project, and two organizations who provide assistance to victims of domestic violence, Our Voice and Helpmate. In early November these organizations launched Kelly’s Line, an anonymous phone service that allows sex workers to report “bad dates,” or violent clients, to the police without fear of arrest on prostitution charges. Organizers of Kelly’s Line also compile a flyer of the reported information and distribute it to other sex workers to help them avoid falling into the same dangerous situations. “Bad date lines” are used in many cities across the United States to prevent violence against sex workers in a way that doesn’t compromise the worker’s identity.
In addition to Kelly’s Line, the Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project provides outreach materials to sex workers and is attempting to launch a program to train law enforcement officers on sex worker issues.
“The ultimate goal of the project is to provide education and resources to sex workers and people involved in their lives, such as police, counselors, and hospital workers,” says Sarah Danforth. “It’s a safety issue, but we also want to create a culture of understanding and compassion for people who do sex work.”
About a year ago Sarah began investigating ways to stop violence against sex workers through her work with homeless populations in Asheville. “I see so many homeless people who have obviously been assaulted, but who are afraid to go to the hospital or the police because they’re afraid of being questioned instead of helped. Something has got to be done about this, and I’m glad we’ve been able to find people in Asheville who care about this issue and are willing to work on it.”
Fittingly, the logo for Kelly’s Line is a Forget-Me-Not flower to remind us of the lives lost through violence that was never acknowledged or reported. In this way Lane Smith lives on as she challenges us to denounce brutality no matter who the victim and to remember those who we’ve already lost.
There is a disturbing trend happening across the country and we can now add one more casualty to the list of Things-That-Shouldn’t-Be-Illegal-But-Are: CONDOMS. Though condoms themselves are not illegal, in many cities they can be used as the basis for police harassment and arrest or as evidence of prostitution in court. In New York City, Washington DC and San Francisco, police are using the number of condoms women are carrying to justify profiling them as prostitutes, and even to bolster an arrest on charges of sexual solicitation.
Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher with Human Rights Watch, became interested in the issue while on outreach with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) in East Durham, North Carolina last spring. Megan has been working on issues related to HIV and human rights in the South for the last two years. Part of her research has focused on harm reduction, pushing to expand access to syringe exchange, medication-assisted treatment (methadone and buprenorphine) and other responses to drug use that are based in public health rather than the criminal law. While visiting with the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, Megan accompanied the outreach workers as they distributed supplies in East Durham and was shocked when a Durham sex worker refused the offer of free condoms over fears of harassment or arrest from local police. Megan began investigating the practice and found the criminalization of condoms to be prevalent in many U.S. cities. She plans to complete a full investigative report for Human Rights Watch by next summer. To date, Megan hasn’t discovered any condom arrests in North Carolina, through there is ample evidence to prove that sex workers think they can get arrested for carrying rubbers, and the perception is just as harmful as the real thing.
The public health consequences of condom criminalization, or even the fear of it, are severe. Taking away condoms won’t put sex workers out of business, but it will put them, their clients and the community at large at greater risk of HIV and STD transmission.
“It’s a public health imperative that sex workers and their clients have access to condoms,” says Megan McLemore.She’s not alone. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other public health organizations have also denounced the practice as contributing to the spread of disease.
But, as Megan explains, her research is not all about condoms. “This report will go beyond public health. It’s part of a growing advocacy movement among sex workers to stand up for their human rights. Other people don’t get arrested for protecting their health.”
The Human Rights Watch report on condom criminalization is set to be published in the summer of 2012. Until then, Megan will continue to contact and interview individuals and organizations who have seen or experienced police harassment or arrest for condom possession.
If you have any information about this practice, please contact Megan McLemore at email@example.com with your story.
In March 2012 NCHRC will be premiering some videos on sex worker violence prevention. While doing field research we came across these 2 powerful stories that we wish to share with the greater NCHRC community.
NC Sex Worker Story #1
When I was growing up Mom nodded off all the time [on opiate pills] and in the morning I’d find her lying on the floor or wherever she’d passed out high the night before… My father was drunk all the time, my mother high on pills, so my brother and I raised ourselves. I learned to cook for myself when I was three and got myself up to get ready for school at age five. [My brother and I] were abused mentally a lot, and my Dad abused us physically too. We terrorized the neighborhood. We played with knives and ripped the shingles off houses.
I had my first baby at fifteen. I’d had such a shitty life growing up that I swore I wanted my kids to be better off then me. I stayed in school and worked. I was smart and wanted to make something of myself. But when my son, Jamie, was two and a half he was diagnosed with autism. I was so upset, angry at God. I dropped out of school. I was about nineteen then and I had my own cleaning business with seven women working for me. A co-worker introduced me to dope. When I shot up for the first time I thought ‘Shit, I’ve been looking for this my whole life.’ My mother and grandmother were addicted to opiates. I was born addicted.
When I did heroin I stopped crying all the time about my son’s autism and I didn’t feel stressed when I was high, so I did it more and more often. Then things started to get bad. I got two DWIs in the next five years and went to prison for 18 months. When they put me in jail I was dope sick for three weeks and couldn’t even walk. I felt like I was going to die. I was throwing up and shitting all over myself in my cell.
Under North Carolina law if you are locked up for more than a year they take away your kids. They took Jamie away. My second son, Gabriel, was born when I was in prison. I was handcuffed and shackled all through the birth. I only saw my baby for 15 minutes before they took him away.
When I got out of prison I was clean and had saved up some money to start my life over and try to get my kids back. When I found out I couldn’t get my sons back I went crazy and started using heroin again.
A few months [after I got out of jail] I went to the doctor for a physical and they told me I was seven months pregnant! I was scared because I’d been using the whole time and hadn’t known I was pregnant. I went to a prenatal clinic to talk to the doctor about it and he said basically, that if I tried to get off heroin the baby would die from withdrawal. I signed up for a methadone clinic to try to get off heroin without hurting the baby.
When Alexandra was born I only had her for three days before she was taken away too. Since the state had already taken the first two kids, they automatically took the third also. Since then I’ve been blitzed all the time over the pain of losing my children. I needed to take stronger doses of heroin just to not be dope sick. Also the father of my last two kids, the love of my life, got deported. So in just a few short years I lost everything: my children, my lover, my business and wound up living back with my mother who abused me as a kid and is still addicted to pills.
I was at a hotel with a friend when he told me about backpage. He said ‘you want to make some real money?’ That’s how I started sex work at twenty-five. I’ve been a sex worker for four years now and an addict for ten. My addiction is so bad I sell my body to pay for it. I never thought I would end up like this.
I wanna get clean. My Dad is clean seven years now. I’m gonna try to live with him and start my life over. Mostly I wanna find my kids. I hope they have a good life now.
NC SexWorker Story#2
[My mother] made it clear from day one that I’d screwed up her life by being born. At five years old I walked into the bedroom…to show her a paint-by-number that I painted for my grandmother. She was with another man and [when she saw me] she went ballistic. She decided that I was a whore… and that I needed to be taught a lesson about what a whore is. She offered [her boyfriend] the opportunity to penetrate me and told him it was a punishment and to make it hurt. He was more than happy to accommodate. They decided [raping me] was a nice fringe benefit to their relationship and he continued for years with full knowledge of my mother.
There was an emphasis on keeping this a secret. My mother made a point of showing me the county jail and said if I told anybody that’s where I would go…I was terrified of that jail so I kept it quiet. I was an accelerated student and hid my issues under the guise of intelligence. Until 6th grade I was a straight A student. In 6th grade puberty hit and I changed. The first time I was offered access to alcohol and drugs it occurred to me that I could do what I was doing at home to older boys and get beer and drugs…I started ditching class and it got out of control, but my father was on School Board so no one wanted to draw attention to what was going on.
At the end of 9th grade my parents told me they were moving to a new house that didn’t have room for me and I would need to get out…I hitchhiked to Cincinnati to my best friend from 8thg grade and I thought I could live with her…when I got there my friend’s parents realized that I was a runaway…they wanted nothing to do with [me]. They called DSS, the police, and I was terrified of police so I split. I spent all my money on pacman and space invaders and then realized I had no money for food and no place to stay and that is where the enormity of being homeless really hit. I thought I was slick and would be good at shop lifting, but got chased repeatedly from 7/11. So I started staking out café’s and wait until someone ordered a sandwich and I would snatch it and run into traffic…I slept in a cemetery because everyone there was dead and they weren’t bothered by my presence, plus the sprinklers went on and it was a way to get clean.
One day I was in the mall and this gorgeous guy walks up to me. He looked like my teenage crush Lindsey Buckingham, the lead singer of Fleetwood Mac…He was very charming. He picked out that I was a homeless runaway, that somebody must have hurt me and he was very sympathetic…He told me he ran an entertainment agency and that I seemed intelligent and beautiful and smart…I jumped at the chance because I did want to get off the street and work. He said I could audition…I said ok, but I had one question, was this prostitution because I didn’t want to be a prostitute. He stood up indignantly and got mad and said he was wrong about me and I wasn’t professional or intelligent, that was a stupid question and the deal was off and he stormed off. I really wanted to work so I ran up to him and begged for another chance and made a deal that there would be no more questions…and he took me out to his car and made this big production about corporate espionage and so he blindfolded me and covered it with sunglasses and a hat. At this point of course my instincts were telling me this was wrong, but I was in the back of his car and didn’t know what to do…He said we were going downtown to his office building, except…we pulled up to a garage because I could hear the garage door going up…I knew something was wrong and could smell the musty basement smell. At that point I was sobbing and he spotted the tears and leveled me with a backhand and told me that professionals don’t cry and I was going to lose my chance at the job unless I stripped. So I did because I’d kind of gotten the point about who was in charge. I stripped and he told me to put my hands over my head and I could feel something wrapping around my wrists. I didn’t really understand what was happening and then what I was standing on gave out and I was hanging by my wrists, at which point it becomes really hard to breathe because all your weight falls on your diaphragm. I was reduced to panting like a dog, very focused on just trying to breathe. Then he raped me and hit me with some kind of whip hundreds of times and a kind of stick and he told me I could hang there until I died and he would throw my skinny ass into the Ohio river or I could go work for him…I agreed to work for him. That was where he explained that I was gong to work as a paid submissive. That sadist clients wanted what they viewed as a masochist, or painslut, that’s what I was going to do.
We did a lot of sensory deprivation. He showed me his dungeon and we practiced endlessly on each pieces of equipment as to what it felt like and how much it hurt and how I was supported so response. We also worked on my cover story…if I was questioned I was to say this was all consensual.
After about 5-6 weeks of intense torture and rape he thought my training was done and I could see clients. That’s how I got started in sex work.
I was able to get out after three years because of a fluke. He was arrested on charged not related to me and I was able to get away. I escaped to Vegas and over time rebuilt my life. For quite a few years I compartmentalized everything that had happened. I got a job as a flight attendant. I got back into sex work in my forties because I had a series of major medical issues. The flight attendant position caused a series of blood clots in my legs and I lost my job over this and lost my health insurance and was out of work for months. I tried to avoid sex work by taking any job I could get, but I found that even working full time I had no food. I was stealing food out of Kroger if I wanted to eat. It came down to needing money this minute for rent, so I posted on backpage and started working as an escort, which was a very different scenario than the teenager coerced. As an escort I can screen my clients and control to some degree my environment….I advertise in various venue and work for myself as an independent.
I continue to be a sex worker because of the economy. I don’t have high living standards…but I have not been able to pay me a job that enables me to live…I am no fan of sex work…I just need the money.
*The Video was made by NCHRC’s award winning Videographer Hadley Gustafson
2.) NCHRC Starts Bad Date Line to Address Sex Worker Violence Prevention
NCHRC has launched a statewide Bad Date Line, an anonymous reporting service for sex workers who experience rape or assault. NCHRC will record the assault information from sex workers who contact us and send it to local law enforcement, while maintaining the anonymity of the sex worker. With the new Bad Date Line we hope to address the issue of violence against sex workers in our state. Because sex work is illegal, violent and sexual predators often take advantage of sex workers because they know they won’t go to the police. A sex worker can be arrested for reporting violent crime, even if that person is the victim. Sex workers also can be, and often are, raped by clients, meaning forced to commit sex acts they did not agree to.
Reports will also be printed on a bad date sheet, a list describing violent predators as well as the vehicle they drive, which will be distributed to sex workers in various settings including on the street and through text, Facebook and Twitter. This sheet will be a powerful tool to help sex workers avoid potentially violent clients.
Reporting to the NC Bad Date Line: If you have experienced violence while doing sex work please report bad dates/tricks to the NC Bad Date Line. All reports will be anonymous. Please send details of the event to us so we can warn other sex workers about bad dates. Please make sure to give us a description of the person’s car, location and the individual who hurt you. Help us stop the violence.
4.) Event Sign-Up: The Law Enforcement Safety and Drug Policy Summit
When: June 12th, 2012, 8:30am-1pm
Where: North Carolina Legislative Auditorium, 16 Jones Street, Raleigh, NC
Who Should Attend: Law Enforcement, Law Enforcement Advocates and Lobbyists, Legislators, Legislative Support Staff, Public Health Officials, Harm Reductionists, HIV advocates, and the Substance Abuse Community
What Will be Covered: Needlestick Reduction, Law Enforcement Safety around Drug Users and Preventing Drug Overdose Deaths