Distributing, Then Confiscating, Condoms
By MEGAN McLEMORE
Published: July 15, 2012
I MET her at 2 a.m. on a cold and windy morning in Washington, when she ran over to the outreach van to get a warm cup of coffee. Volunteers were offering condoms and health information to sex workers. She took only two condoms, and I urged her to take more. She told me that although she was worried about H.I.V., she was more afraid of the police. A month earlier, she had been harassed by officers for carrying several condoms. They told her to throw them out. She thought if they picked her up with more than a couple of condoms again, she might be taken to jail on prostitution charges.
Her story is not unique. Over the last eight months, Human Rights Watch has interviewed more than 200 current and former sex workers in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco. The interviews were part of an investigation into barriers to H.I.V. prevention for sex workers, who, worldwide, are more than 10 times as likely to be infected as the general population. What we found was shocking: While public health departments spend millions of dollars promoting and distributing condoms, police departments are harassing sex workers for carrying them and using them as evidence to support arrests.
Many of the women we interviewed asked, “How many condoms is it legal to carry?” One wondered, “Why is the city giving me condoms when I can’t carry them without going to jail?” Some women said they continued to carry condoms despite the consequences. For others, fear of arrest trumped fears of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Most of those we interviewed told us they were afraid to carry the number of condoms they needed, and some — about 5 percent — told us they had unprotected sex with clients as a result.
Police officers confiscate condoms and prosecutors try to enter them as evidence not because it is official policy to do so, but simply because they have not been trained to do otherwise. An act of the legislature (like one bill pending in the New York State Assembly), or even a directive from a police chief or district attorney, could end the practice immediately. Categories of evidence — like testimony regarding the sexual history of rape victims — are excluded as a matter of public policy in many legal systems. In this case, the value of condoms for H.I.V. and disease prevention far outweighs any utility they might have in the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws. Law enforcement efforts should not interfere with the right of anyone, including sex workers, to protect his or her own health.
Later this month, the 19th International AIDS Conference will be held in Washington. The United States’ response to the epidemic will be in the spotlight; it is an opportunity for our government to announce new policies that protect those at risk of H.I.V. infection and to eliminate those that undermine prevention. Police and public health officials both seek to protect individuals and make our communities safer. They can — and should — work together to keep condoms in the hands of those who need them the most.
SEXWORK HARM REDUCTION TIPS
Adapted from “Tricks of the Trade” by L. Synn Stern- Leslie Peterson, Portland Bad Date Line 12/07
• Tell someone where you are going and how long you will be gone.
• Try to work in pairs if possible… not side by side, but in sight of one another. Never let the client know you are alone. Let them think you have a friend that knows where you are.
• Try and carry a phone if possible. You can get a 9-1-1 cell phone from some DV/SA agencies.
• Carry a small bag with the essentials: condoms, lube, hand wipes and extra change of clothes for emergencies.
• Shoes should come off easily or be appropriate for running in
• Never carry a lot of money, or else hide money in a place other than a handbag—your shoe, your stocking, inside pocket, your sleeve…
• Walk against traffic, not with it
• The further from the stroll you get with a customer, the harder it becomes to turn him down. If he gives you a bad feeling on the stroll (your territory) It will get worse once you’re in the car (his territory).
• Stand where you can be seen and where you have good, glare-free vision of the stroll and approaching cars.
• Stash keys and other important personal items where they will be accessible and safe –keeping them in your pockets or purse makes them available to customers who want to rob you.
• If dancing in a club, always have a bouncer walk you to your car.
• If accepting drinks from clients, always make sure you watch it being made and do not let it out of your sight.
• Never accept food or drink from a client, unless you have seen him indulge in it first.
• ?”Act as if.” Always pretend to have security, wealth, health and calm.
APPROACHING THE CAR
• Approach the driver’s window keeping enough distance to avoid being grabbed, engage in small talk to assess any potential risk. ALWAYS GO WITH YOUR GUT INSTINCT. If it feels bad, don’t go. There will always be another customer.
• Study the customer, the car, and the door lock system.
• Arrange price, service and location while you’re outside the car.
• Circle the car completely before entering to ensure the number of passengers. Check it all out.
• Take the license plate number (or pretend to).
• Wave goodbye to work partner (or pretend to) and shout expected return time.
IN THE CAR
• Ensure that you can re-open the car door.
• In a two-door car, try to remain in the front seat. ?Position yourself on top and facing him. This way you can move easily and keep an eye on his hands.
• Get a good look at the customer and the car. Its still not too late to back out. For example, he’s drunker than you thought, you see a weapon under his seat or you get a creepy feeling.
• GET YOUR MONEY UP FRONT.
• Let him see you stash his payment and keep it separate from the rest of your money. If he tries to rob you maybe he won’t find your entire bankroll.
• Put your purse where you can find it without looking. For example, open on the floor between your feet.
• Act in control, and take charge of the action.
• ?Keep eyes on him and his hands, at all times.
• Don’t let him get between you and the exit
• Keep the door open a crack if he allows.
• Look for well lit, open and secure areas to work.
What to do if things go wrong:
• Like diseases, it is better and easier to prevent violence than to treat. The best defense is a good offense. Be aware.
• Carry a whistle or a personal alarm. Do not carry a weapon that can be taken from and used against you.
• Try using your voice and speed instead of your strength- Make a lot of noise. Scream. Turn on the car lights. Hit the horn- Create a HUGE scene to get attention.
• Run and scream “FIRE” as loud as you can.
• Run against traffic and towards lights and people.
On fighting back: Even small men are often stronger than large women. Do not try to fight a man unless you’re certain that you can escape or that you will win. Attack areas that are easily injured, such as throat, eyes, adam’s apple, nose, underside of nose, testicles, shins, insteps. Kick, poke with fingers, nails, keys, spray hairspray in his face. Don’t bother trying to pull his hands off your throat since he will probably be stronger. Break a strangle hold by joining hands and swinging your arms up against him while simultaneously moving your body down and away.
A note on Clothing:
Shoes should come off easily or be appropriate for running in. Long earrings or big hoops for pierced ears may get pulled accidentally or intentionally. Wear small earrings, clip-ons or none at all. Avoid necklaces, scarves, across-the-body shoulder bags, or anything else that can accidentally or intentionally be tightened around your throat. Wigs should fit so that they can’t slip and cover the face. Wear clothing that doesn’t have to be removed to have sex. This saves time, hides money and tracks, and if there’s a problem you won’t lose your clothing if you have to run away or leave in a hurry. Clothing should be “straitjacket-proof.” A half zipped or buttoned jacket can be pulled over shoulders to trap arms. Wear nothing that can get caught in or on car doors, like loose bracelets, billowing dresses, wide sleeves, or long coats with dangling, attached belts.
NEGOTIATION WITH CUSTOMERS
BEFORE GOING TO WORK
• Check your head—psych yourself up, be clear headed, don’t be dope sick or too drunk to think clearly.
• BE WILLING TO TURN DOWN PARTICULAR CUSTOMERS, PARTICULAR REQUESTS AND OFFERS OF PAYMENT BELOW YOUR STANDARDS.
• Have a price list and stick to it
• Having a time limit for each service is important because a customer who can’t come within reasonable period costs you money by preventing you from seeing other customers. And, his failure to get off may make him agitated or violent.
• Decide what you are and are not willing to do.
• ?Pick your own parking spot or hotel, don’t leave it up to the customer.
• ?Have a time limit for each service, and tell him upfront how much time you have, even telling him you have to meet with someone directly after your time with him.
• Do not brush your teeth—use mouthwash or gum.
• Urinate often- friction from sex with a full bladder may cause a bladder infection.
• Female condoms can be inserted before you go out to the stroll and will guarantee some protection.
• Have a supply of condoms, lube, and handi-wipes with you and put a condom in your mouth. Stash a bag of extra condoms and supplies in a bag somewhere on the stroll.
• Tight pants, nylon underwear and pantyhose can cause vaginal infections. Wear cotton or crotchless underwear, thigh-high stockings, or nothing. Change panties daily (or turn inside out on alternate days, or use pantyliners). Wipe front to back after pissing and shitting.
• ?Keep toenails short to reduce foot pain. Shoes that are too large are safer and more comfortable than shoes that are too small.
• ?Sanitary napkins can provide a pathway for bacteria from anus to vagina, causing infection. Wear tampons while having your period and change them frequently. A diaphragm can act as a tampon if your flow is not too heavy.
• Don’t douche. If you must do it after work, not before, with a mild salt solution or white vinegar in warm water
• Shower or bathe daily if possible. Avoid perfumed soap and bubble bath which can cause genital irritation and bladder infections. If you can’t bathe, wash your genitals and allow them to dry completely before dressing.
• ?Keep lips, teeth, gums, vagina and thighs well lubricated to prevent irritation.
RISK REDUCTION WITH THE CUSTOMER
• ?Become familiar with your local public STD clinic. They are specialists and have tests and up to date information that a regular doctor may not. They often have sliding scale payments, walk-in hours, and well trained, non-judgemental-type folks to serve you.
• Go to the STD clinic and get tested regularly!
• Try to negotiate out of performing vaginal or anal sex. Offer to do it with hands, mouth, between thighs, tits and ass cheeks OR charge a very high price for this service.
• Use a lubricated condom and lubricate entire genital area.
• Use hands to get him hard, keep him hard enough to get a condom on and prevent him from coming too soon if this means you’ll have to give his money back.
• If he won’t use a condom, try hiding a condom in your mouth and putting it on, and swing yourself on top of him quickly (while hiding his cock in your hands) so he doesn’t see it.
• Open labia yourself after first spitting on fingers to reactivate lubricant and push hairs to the sides.
• The closer together your thighs are, the shallower he’ll be in your vagina.
• If you have A LOT of pain when he bangs your cervix, you probably have an infection. See a medical provider as soon as possible.
• Never let him (or anyone else) put fingers first in your ass and then in your vagina – the bacteria in your butt makes a vaginal infection highly likely. This is also true for the mouth.
• ?Keep a hand on the base of his penis to keep him hard, make sure the condom doesn’t roll up, keep your labia spread and reduce trauma, and limit depth of penis in your body.
• Once he comes, get him out fast or hold condom tight to the base of his penis so semen doesn’t leak into you. If you snuck condom on, sneak it off. Don’t spill semen on or near your vagina.
• Its hard to sneak condoms on without giving head. If it isn’t possible to sneak one on, try appealing to:
1. his safety,
2. his libido (condoms make it last longer, condoms excite you and you’ll fuck longer)
3. his status as a customer - he’s paying you as an expert in giving pleasure - he should trust that you’ll be sure to please him while keeping both of you safe
4. his sense of honor about your safety.
• Get condom on (with hands or mouth) and check to make sure its on properly,
• If he won’t use a condom, try hiding a condom in your mouth and putting it on
• Try not to rest any part of your face (chin, cheeks, forehead) on his balls or thighs. If he has sores, herpes, lice you may got them too.
• Breathe through your nose and don’t close your eyes.
• If he wants to touch his dick and doesn’t know he’s wearing a condom, distract him into touching you.
• Scrotum tightening signals imminent ejaculation.
• Once he comes, keep firm pressure on condom with lips and hands to prevent semen leaking into your mouth.
• If you have gotten a condom on without him knowing it, sneak it off and hide it in a baggie or napkin in your purse.
IF YOU MUST GIVE HEAD WITHOUT A CONDOM:
• Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis and herpes can be passed to the inside of your mouth and throat, and not only do these diseases suck for their own, nasty symptoms, they do create abrasions that make you more susceptible to HIV infection. If you give head without a condom, get yourself to your local STD clinic to get tested.
• Keep lips, mouth and throat as wet as possible. Don’t swallow your spit, let it droll out.
• Throat tissue is fragile, try to keep contact shallow. Don’t panic. Tension will make your throat tighten and tissues easier to tear.
• It is better to have him come on you than to have him thrusting in your mouth. Try to finish with your hand.
• As soon as possible when its over, gargle with astringent mouthwash, hydrogen peroxide, or hard liquor -don’t brush your teeth.
• Birth control is necessary for all female sex workers. Weigh the costs and benefits of each method.
• Female condoms are good—if you can get used to them—since you control them. They can be inserted before you go out to work and can be used more than once (although they should be cleaned with warm, soapy water between customers). The drawbacks of female condoms are that they are expensive and do not prevent the customer’s semen from coming into contact with the area around your vagina, leaving you at some risk for STDs. Find out if your local AIDS service or family planning agency distributes them for free or at a discount
• If you have sex without a condom, not only are you at risk for HIV, but gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and herpes, too. Not only do these diseases suck for their own, nasty symptoms, they also create abrasions that make you even more susceptible to HIV infection in the future. If you have sex without a condom, get yourself to your local STD clinic to get tested.
• Urinate after vaginal sex to help prevent bladder infections.
• Keep labia and inner thighs well lubricated with water soluble lubricant
• Re-activate lubricant with spit as needed
• Infections cause small cuts in mucous tissue which increase your chances of getting STDs, HIV and hepatitis. Prevent as much as you can- If you do get an infection get it treated immediately.
• Anal sex can be uncomfortable, make shitting more difficult and is a very efficient way of getting HIV, hepatitis B. and other diseases. Try to negotiate out of it with another service or charge so much that a cheap customer won’t be willing to pay.
• If you think you can pull it off, try faking by using your hands, ass cheeks or vagina.
• Use a well lubricated thick condom and lots of extra lubricant on your anus
• Female condoms can be used for anal intercourse.
• ?To prevent infections, don’t let him go from your ass to your mouth or vagina. Forbid fingering or insist he use separate hands for the anus and vagina. If you must perform another service following anal sex, change condoms.
• Anal sex without a condom is the A-number-one way to get HIV! Not only that, you are also at risk for gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and herpes, too. These diseases suck for their own, nasty symptoms, they also create abrasions that make you even more susceptible to HIV infection in the future. If you have sex without a condom, get yourself to your local STD clinic to get tested.
• When he enters, exhale slowly while pushing down like you’re taking a shit (you won’t). His penis will go in more easily. If you’re nervous, your sphincter will tighten and can tear. Try to stay relaxed and control the movements.
• If become constipated, drink lots of water, eat some oily foods and/or fruit and vegetables, or use a reliable laxative pill. If you must use an enema, do it an a day when you don’t have to work.
• You might drip lubricant and a little loose shit for a while- It can cause an infection if it gets in your vagina. Wipe front to back and if you want to catch the drip in a pantyliner, place the liner to the back so the bacteria can’t “walk” along the pad and into your vagina and/or urethra.
• It’s never safe to get shit in your mouth (even your own shit), vagina or near your urethra.
• It’s possible to get diseases like hepatitis A or B, worms and amoebas from licking the ass of a person who’s infected.
• Fake it with spit on a knuckle while lowering your head- Wash your hands afterwards.
• If you can’t fake it use a dental dam, a cut condom or latex glove, or a doubled up piece of plastic wrap. ?Using lube between your customer’s asshole and the barrier will increase his sensation, (and will be more convincing if he thinks you are doing it without a barrier).
CUNNILINGUS (EATING PUSSY)
• Its risky to lay under a stranger- Try to stay on top.
• If you have HIV or another STD you may pass it to somebody else this way, even if you’re not menstruating. Use a dental dam, cut condom or latex glove, or a double layer of sandwich wrap.
SEXWORK AND PREGNANCY
• Try selling only hand and mouth work.
• Go easy with vaginal sex. Use a condom, lubricant and avoid deep contact. Stay in control of the movements. Stay on top and keep your thighs close together—this will prevent deep penetration.
• Be alert for signs of infection, and treat immediately.
• You may develop hemorrhoids. These can bleed, itch, and provide another route for disease to enter your body.
PERTINENT INFORMATION FOR BIOLOGICAL MALES
• Men working as women may wish to tuck the penis between their legs, securing it with bathing suit thickness underwear, surgical plasters, or tape. In many cases, however, the organ can still be felt An extra security measure is to hide the penis inside a maternity-length (extra long) sanitary napkin.
• The hormones in birth control pills and other hormonal preparations that enhance feminine physical characteristics (thinner skin, loss of facial hair, breast development) can also cause moodiness, mood swings and occasionally, severe depression. With combination or lower dose hormone preparations, this is often less problematic.
• Your inability to come when actively fucking or being sucked by clients may well be a problem as well. Concentration helps. Failing that it is probably a good idea to have a client flattering story prepared.
• Many men have tricks they can use to get hard should a customer wish to suck them. Squeezing the base of the penis or a gentle massage of the testicles or prostrate gland are two more common ones- Should you fail to get completely hard, try faking it by squeezing the base of the penis firmly, or by using a cockring or rubber band.
• Try to negotiate so that the customer sucks you either in the front seat or outside the car, in these places you are safer and more in control.
• If the guy wants to suck you, be aware that he could have gonorrhea, syphilis, or Chlamydia lurking in his mouth, as well as herpes. These diseases suck for their own, nasty symptoms, they also create abrasions that make you even more susceptible to HIV infection in the future. Get yourself to your local STD clinic to get tested.
ASS FUCKING THE CUSTOMER
• Use a lubricated condom! This will help protect you from gonorrhea, syphilis, or Chlamydia.
• Some people believe that there is no risk of getting HIV this way— but think again! It seems that topping has one tenth to one third the chance of risk of getting HIV as anal bottoming does. Who knew?
• A rock hard penis and a lubricated butthole will make entry less difficult
• Try not to get any fluids or solids from the rectum on your skin, hands or mouth. These can cause nasty infections, especially when in contact with broken skin
• Pissing afterwards is a good idea, even if you’ve used a condom, as this helps cleanse the uretha.
• Same warning as for biological women: having teeth so close to your genitals can be very unnerving and distracting and can draw your attention from where It belongs - ON THEM.
• Try to find support! There are now several good groups and publications for “straight” men on the game. Just like homosexual women, heterosexual men who sell sex sometimes have more difficulty with job-related stigma or the emotional aspects of their work- Don’t isolate. If you can’t find the network you need, form it. The pride you take in yourself will pay off, both during leisure time and at work.
SEXWORK AND DRUG USE
• Try not to let customers know that you use or they may be tempted to play money and power games.
• Don’t let customers know that you’re dope sick. Prevent sniffling with antihistamines and mentholated salve in your nostrils.
• Insist on getting paid in cash, not drugs - you’ll look more professional and in control.
• Do not accept drugs—you don’t know what may be in them.
• Prevent track marks by rotating injection sites, using new, sharp, small gauge needles, and salve or hemorrhoid cream on injection sites and old tracks.
• Don’t get so pinned that you can’t see at night.
• It’s more difficult to work safe when you’re very high on cocaine or other drugs. Try not to use alcohol at all when working - your reaction time will be slower.
• ?Keep mouth moist by chewing gum or sucking hard candies.
• Drink a lot of water to prevent constipation, dry mouth and dry, itchy skin.
• Urinate frequently, even if you think you don’t have to.
• Be aware that sores in your mouth or genitals (or anywhere!) create portholes for the HIV virus to get into you and infect you.
Check out “Getting Off Right” at www.berkeleyneed.org for a complete risk reduction guide for IDU’s. (under “resourses”)
WHAT YOUR AGENCY CAN DO
Bus tickets for referrals?
Incentives for follow up appointments?
• Provide condoms! All flavors sizes, lubed and unlubed, male AND FEMALE
• Bad Date Sheets!
• Pocket handi-wipes or anti-bacterial hand wash.
• Pocket lube
• Pocket mouth wash
• Tooth brush/paste
• SOCKS, nail polish, un-used make-up, hair stuff - underwear and bras are nice too.
BASIC SEXWORKER FRIENDLINESS:
• Offer the use of a mirror, toilet shower, telephone, washing machine and dryer.
• Know the local prostitution laws
• ?Offer referrals to nonjudgmental providers of D&A services, financial advisory services, medical, legal and other professional services
• Keep a supply of donated clothing and umbrellas on hand.
• Encourage sexworkers to talk to work with, and support each other.
• Discourage sexworkers from undercutting each others’ prices.
• ?Teach self-defense, meditation, relaxation and creative visualization techniques.
• Help sex workers develop good street skills, especially intuition/instinct
• Understand that superstition has a role in any unsafe or unpredictable profession or situation. Help sex workers develop superstitions that are actually protective. Do this by helping them ADD to their superstition pool, not by trying to convince them that their current beliefs are invalid.
• Support sex workers who want to leave the sex industry as well as those who continue to work in it
• Cosmetics, hygiene supplies, cotton underwear, and stockings make nice gifts.
• — Understand that superstition has a role in any unsafe or unpredictable profession or situation. Help sex workers develop superstitions that are actually protective. Do this by helping them ADD to their superstition pool, not by trying to convince them that their current beliefs are invalid.
North Carolinians, 11 current and former sex workers and/or advocates, share their experience with the common goal of raising awareness about and 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? The North Carolina Bad Date Line, created by the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (nchrc.org,) allows sex workers to anonymously report crime against them to help each other stay safer.
The producer, interviewer, photographer, videographer and editor is Hadley Gustafson; additional interviews were performed by Tessie Castillo and Robert Childs. 2012.
RESOURCES: For more sex worker violence prevention tips, see pdxswoc.net/pbdl.html. For the North Carolina Bad Date Line, call (336) 543-8050, email firstname.lastname@example.org, check the Twitter feed @ncbaddateline, or see the Facebook group, tinyurl.com/86s6hcl. For the National Blacklist’s Raleigh page, see nationalblacklist.com/raleigh.aspx.
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.
Arrested for Carrying Condoms?
NCHRC Interviews Megan McLemore
Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch
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.