Action Alert: No More Cops Fighting "Trafficking"
On February 23rd, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners will vote whether to approve almost $400,000 in funding for the county sheriff's and attorney's offices to combat "sex trafficking." The money would be used to hire two detectives and one investigator exclusively assigned to a sex trafficking task force.
We all know this means more cops will be combing through adult sex workers' online content and advertisements to set up sting operations leading to arrest or forced diversion.
I have been in contact with my Commissioner (Peter McLaughlin, District 4) and the Chairperson of the Board (Jan Callison, District 6). I urge you to contact your County Commissioner to express concern about this funding request. Steps to finding your commissioner, and sample emails are provided below.
Find Your Commissioner (if you're unsure, check here):
Mike Opat, District 1: Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Osseo, Robbinsdale, New Hope, Crystal
Linda Higgins, District 2: Golden Valley, N Minneapolis, Plymouth, St. Anthony, parts of NE
Marion Greene, District 3 (funding request sponsor): SW Minneapolis, St. Louis Park
Peter McLaughlin, District 4: South Minneapolis, Dinkytown, parts of Northeast
Debbie Goettel, District 5: Richfield, Bloomington, Eden Prairie
Jan Callison, District 6: Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Wayzata
Jeff Johnson, District 7: Maple Grove, Champlin, Rogers
Email or Call Your Commissioner:
Feel free to use and modify the letters below as you deem appropriate. Be sure to list the neighborhood/city you live in so the Commissioner knows you are their constituent.
As a resident of Hennepin County, I'm writing to express concern over the $400,000 funding request for the county sheriff's and attorney's offices to combat sex trafficking leading up to the 2018 Super Bowl (Board Action Request 17-0046), as reported in the Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/hennepin-county-looks-to-increase-staff-to-prosecute-investigate-sex-trafficking/413108273/).
It has long been documented that increases in sex trafficking during large events, like the Super Bowl, are complete myths based on false assumptions, lack of agreement of what constitutes "trafficking," and, for lack of a better term, a moral panic surrounding the sex trade. (See fact-checking done by the Washington Post for an overview of this myth purported during a previous Super Bowl: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/01/29/a-bipartisan-fail-over-claims-there-was-a-300-percent-increase-in-escort-ads-during-the-dallas-super-bowl/?utm_term=.594ce36a43ec).
Furthermore, enforcement-based sex trafficking task forces often fail to distinguish between adult consensual sex work and sex trafficking, thus further harming and stigmatizing those in the sex industry.
I urge the County to speak with the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP; http://swopminneapolis.weebly.com/) and speak with sex workers, as they will tell a different narrative than the one purported within these task forces.
SWOP wants to end (and is actively fighting to end) forced labor and sexual exploitation in the industry, too, but doing so requires a scalpel, not a sword.
Thank you for your time and consideration of hearing my concerns before the funding vote on the 23rd. Should you have any questions, I'd be happy to speak with you further on this manner.
I am writing to express not only my concern but also the concern of the Minneapolis sex work community regarding your support for the large ($400,000) funding request to "combat sex trafficking". This anti-trafficking discourse is being used to justify actions that harm marginalized sex work communities and unproductively direct resources to increased policing and community surveillance.
Citing the number of arrests made for selling or buying sexual services, as done in ALL of the Star Tribune coverage of this funding request, is not an indicator of an epidemic of sex trafficking. It merely reflects the number of individuals selling/buying sexual services. And if the number of arrests increases, as mentioned in this coverage (due to raids or unethical police sting operations), again, there’s no evidence that sex trafficking is increasing.
When police arrest sex workers and/or their clients, the issue of sex trafficking is not addressed and sex workers lives are being directly harmed and made more difficult due to having criminal records, being put through the legal system, etc.
This sentiment also suggests that all sex workers are victims who are trafficked, coerced, or otherwise forced into selling sexual services, which is based on unfounded stereotypes regarding restrictive gender roles and antiquated notions of what people, particularly women, “should” do with their sexuality (i.e., not sell sex).
Data shows that globally, sex workers have a 45-75% chance of experiencing violence at some point during their careers. Various studies have also noted a correlation between anti-sex work rhetoric that sees street-based workers or sex workers as a nuisance or a threat to public order and an increase in violence against sex workers (Lowman, 2000).
Because of this, I urge you to adopt a rights-based harm reduction strategy to supporting sex workers, as backed by human rights organizations including the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the global sex worker rights movement.
I also strongly urge you to connect with the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Minneapolis and ask them to help guide you and others in future endeavors aimed at improving the conditions of the sex work population. Without the guidance and support of this community, you are doing a grave disservice to this marginalized population and making their lived experiences MORE difficult and dangerous.
The contact information for SWOP Minneapolis is:
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, we appreciate your support.
Katie Bloomquist, SWOP USA Board of Directors