Current Trends

Almost identical to similar exclamations made about Florida in the wake of the deaths of Somer Thompson, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, their respective verdicts and details surrounding cases we all very nearly unanimously agree shouldn’t have happened, the horrifying overreaction of Curtis Reeves to something mundane leaving a young father dead because of how and where he used his smartphone. Much like comments about the Midwest after the Sikh temple shooting, the most recent meth bust to overshadow a state or the suburban heroine epidemic, the south after the Chick Fil-A controversy; those exclamations are now spotlighted on Arizona. No stranger itself to headline making scrutiny circa the not so distant past or the very recent present; in fact it is the absolute latest in a string of undeniably bad press for the state beginning with governor Jan Brewers eye-popping, later proved inaccurate, statements about beheadings conducted on U.S. soil thanks to a combination of illegal immigrants and drug cartels, evidence allegedly supporting of her controversial immigration bill. That was 2010; by 2012 the Supreme Court had struck down 3 key provisions of the would be law yet kept the most contentious one allowing police to question suspected illegal immigrants, causing her to crow victory. Apparently not enough for Brewer, she countered president Obama’s dream act signing an executive order denying driver’s licenses to young immigrants granted working/student status under said act. Just last month Ms. Brewer did the only arguably sane thing during her tenure in office, vetoing house bill 1062 meant to let businesses uphold their religious freedoms by refusing service to some customers if doing so violated their beliefs; seen as an all-out assault on LGBT persons due to wedding service, accessory providers being at the center of the proposed law. The religious mined of course being opposed to gay marriage, gay lifestyles. What is the “it” exactly splashing Arizona across multiple types of national media this time, a new project meant to solve Arizona’s apparent prostitution epidemic, creating a new classification of criminality for which persons, certain groups of people, can be arrested; manifestation of prostitution, in essence fitting the profile of a prostitute whether you are one or not, whether you have actually exchanged sex, sexual contact for money or not, whether you attempted to exchange any type of sexual activity for money or not. 

Facts according to MSNBC and Monica Jones, sex worker rights activist, trans-person and potential victim of Project Rose; a joint collaboration between Phoenix police, ASU School of social work and catholic charities aimed at diverting sex workers to other lines of legal employment post arrest. All well and good right, considering the number of young women even boys, young men involved in prostitution due to childhood sexual abuse, being thrown out of their home for being gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgender, those who are also victim of the sex trade, human trafficking; what could be better than arresting them, scaring them straight then showing them other, better opportunities? Except not all the people being rounded up and charged with the dubiously illegal distinction of manifesting prostitution are actual prostitutes; some of the people they appear to be lining their jail cells with are simply transgender individuals best denoting the outdated term drag queen. Going about their business, walking down the street in Arizona; suddenly finding themselves interrogated and charged with manifestation only because they choose to live their gender preference, because they look a specific way, fit a given stereotype, live in a particular area. Some question Jones’ account citing not only the police report including 6 witnesses, mentions she first exposed her breasts, got in a car with the undercover cop, talking about getting a hotel room, then asking if he was a cop, ending the incident by “grabbing his junk,” but her own statements about her personal encounter with the law seem to corroborate police’s version of events. Admitting that grabbing the officer’s anatomy might have been why she was deemed a hooker and thus arrested; however, whatever the “real” story behind her arrest, people who are hesitant to ‘get into bed,’ quoting one commenter, with Ms. Jones, despite their distaste for the law, misunderstand the whole reason she was doubtlessly invited onto MSNBC to speak about Project Rose and its effect on the transgender community there. She wasn’t solely asked to be a guest on All In with Chris Hayes because of her arrest, rather also because she is both transgender, active within the trans community and a sex worker rights advocate; being the latter two things would afford her access to anecdotal information otherwise undisclosed, data not yet accumulated by other forms of research, not readily acquired by other means owing to gender identity being a sensitive subject at the best of times. The best of times not when people think they are going to be grilled, judged for their lifestyle, a lifestyle brought on by a developmental, hormonal mistakes in the womb before they were even born. Interesting too is if Ms. Jones had gone so far as to expose herself, mention a hotel room, and grope the officer, why was she charged with manifestation, likely a misdemeanor offense judging by the initiatives goals of rehabilitating, redirecting sex working women, and not charged with full blown solicitation, misdemeanor grade sexual assault again for fondling an undercover police officer; because, she had at that point, gone way past preemptive measures under their anti-prostitution plan? Our diligent, police report viewing, commenter not disputing charges under which she was arrested, their connection to Project Rose, just her story doesn’t match the police report, court filings indicating it was Jones’ own behavior, mimicking a prostitute’s, if she indeed wasn’t one, landing her the manifestation charge.        

Independent of why Jones was arrested, whether she represents a good example of possible victims, casualties of what Phoenix has engineered, it in no way negates in any fashion the potential situation where people could, are already being questioned by police, using a more insidious set of targeting parameters than racial profiling based exclusively on physical appearance; dressing sexy, many might say slutty, wearing too much makeup. Distilling it down to the most basic terms, being dressed extremely attractively, possibly living in a high prostitution neighborhood, likely because you are poor and dressing this way, being out at the time of night you are, for work as a waitress in a bar, hotel, strip club (an establishment, it bears repeating, is legal) on the outskirts being flagrantly transgender and out in public at the same time. Many trans persons, particularly male to female such as Jones, often work as performers, singers, dancers in nightclubs, LGBT bars allowing them to dress, act, express themselves as fully who they are while making a living; businesses where there is no sex going on, let alone for money, but who are open at night, during prime bar hours. Whether Monica Jones’ “truth” is one of discrimination or not, it doesn’t preclude what could be happening to other non-prostitutes, transgender citizens harassed by police under the city’s new provision. Does little to lessen the sting associated with the criteria by which people are now subject to hassle, arrest in Arizona adding to increasing attacks against individuals continually ostracized for their sexual preference; SB 1062 to name one, crimes against nature laws taking a hard line on same sex couples having consensual sex, fogging up windows, same sex persons in states like Texas fictitiously told they could be jailed for kissing in the back of a restaurant. Transgender, unlike subsequently religious viewed abnormal, amoral sexual “deviant” terms such as  gay, lesbian, bisexual, supporters are purportedly always pushing the world to accept, meaning people who believe they were born in the wrong body, believe their genitalia does not match their mental, emotional, psychological picture of themselves when referring to gender. A condition known to have at least some medical origins, understandable medical causes regarding in-utero development, the release of hormones, brain growth.  How eerily, and significantly, reminiscent this is to the tragic case of one Ian Doe; his story chronicled for an August 2011 issue of equality, the ultimate consequence when these initiatives fail. Who was yes, a sex worker, but suddenly forced to register as a sex offender not because of sex, prostitution with a minor, not because he actually was soliciting “unnatural sex,” sex of any kind, but because he was gay and uttered the phrase $50 within hearing distance of a police officer. “Being forced to register as a sex offender can have devastating, life-long consequences for those who are charged under “crime against nature” laws. Ian Doe, a Louisiana resident who was kicked out of his house at age 13 for being gay and turned to sex work in order to survive, explained how being labeled a sex offender has undermined his ability to find a job and secure medical care: DOE: And because of this charge, I can’t get a decent job now. I can’t do anything because of the charge … I’ve been everywhere trying to get employment. I’ve been — the minute they find out that I’m a sex offender or I’m a registered sex offender, they tell me “no thank you” or they’ll call me back or they’ll get back with me, and they never do. … I don’t believe that I deserve this kind of — this kind of punishment. I did four years in prison for this. While I was in prison for this crime, for this crime that I didn’t even do that –all I said was ‘fifty dollars,’ and they put me away for four years. And while I was in there, I was raped by an officer, a federal officer of the law that worked at the prison who was dealt with. I also was infected with HIV. I go into prison, and I get infected, and while — and now I’m out here dealing with my health. I’m dealing with trying to get a job.… I don’t believe I deserve to be punished like this. I believe that this should be changed for many reasons. But for one, we don’t deserve this. I mean, it’s because all the lack of a judgment of one police officer to do something, so if he wants to put a prostitution charge or if he wants to put a “crimes against nature” charge on you. There’s no crime committed.”  Jailed, diseased and cast out; this is the legacy of such laws, such organizations meant to “help,” meant to cut down on, prevent crime, uphold a moral majority.

Also to be discounted is a story relayed to news outlets about what prompted Project Roses’ invention, a 15 year old girl found after surviving 42 days of torture including being housed in a dog crate and repeatedly forced to have sex in an apartment, how unprepared VICE units were to deal with her case; confusing since at 15 some amount of coercion was assuredly involved translating to her pimp, her buyers holding more responsibility than she herself would. Having been found in a dog carrier and police classifying it under torture, stating she was forced to have sex, opposed to prostituted for sex, implies even if she initially went with them willingly, at some point it became more akin to kidnapping, false imprisonment and rape; not straight up unfortunate kid gets caught up in prostitution ring, didn’t know what it was until it was too late, didn’t know how to get out once in. Pimp and buyers who would have, should have been arrested, if found, on more than just prostitution, underage prostitution (because the girl is 15, under legal age, incapable of being able to consent even to basic sex) but aforementioned kidnapping, imprisonment charges as well. And at 15 she remains a minor making her eligible for rehabilitative services, counseling, drug treatment, specialized schooling under juvenile justice, numerous social services designed for youth, rendering Project Rose in that context unnecessary. Bringing us back to again if you’re having problems at hotels, apartments along key highway, high traffic intersections, are looking to reduce prostitution; there is where you station a huge portion of your VICE units and start by doing age checks, running faces against missing persons, known runaways. When you find them, arrest them, as in take them off the street, with the intent of returning them to their parents, legal guardians, connecting them needed help. Handling of age sex workers, agreeing not to arrest them if they give up their pimp, their repeat customers, agree to act as informants, intelligence gatherers; dispensing with the false benevolence “we don’t want to arrest anybody,” further discounted when once picked up,  forced to attend a “diversionary program” or be charged.  Face possessing an arrest record, an arrest record for prostitution; awkward for men, condemning for women, virtually forever forestalling their chances at better, legal employment. A so called diversionary program not just genuinely interested in providing medical services, mental health services, rudimentary social services run out of a church based on available space; rather run out of a church  so the religious entity canproselytize, pun intended, religion and morality to these astoundingly wayward and clearly unwashed. A program doomed to be ineffective due to the addition of a religious component; religion(s) all with a  reputation for proclaiming gays, lesbians, bisexuals and yes, transgender people, are going to hell, god hates every one of the above, how their living isn’t right even beyond alleged prostitution. Who, are honestly less interested in the well-being of the persons “served,” medical issues solved, mainstream jobs obtained and are more concerned with conversion to their religious doctrine, usually some variation of Christianity.

Put yourself in their shoes, imagine how receptive you would be to what they were offering, how quickly you would resent the implication, their “goodwill,” especially if you are not a prostitute, instead transgender, a legitimate worker in a bar, you don’t want for health insurance or at least doctor visits via the free clinic, Obama care, don’t have heroine injection site abscesses (one example project police came in contact with) because neither are you a drug user. One commenter summing it up asking how we would feel if it was a Muslim Masque and not a Bible church; rightly implying we would not tolerate coerced spiritual indoctrination if it were anything other than “good Christian values.” Compounding the offensive nature behind the project is exactly what way Arizona again goes about trying to solve a problem; their stated aim here, to reduce crime in high crime areas. Similar to their unprecedented stance on immigration causing even documented or born and raised Latino, Hispanic U.S. citizens to fear deportation, arrest, separation form their children, using made up information about drug cartels and beheadings to get it done, when what they should have been doing is investing in overall, specific regional, city, block/neighborhood crime prevention, not who is or isn’t here illegally. Project Rose starts out painting prostitution as the chief component in Phoenix’s high crime hot spots, socio-dynamically unlikely, then once more goes after religiously, morally, legally objectionable persons not the specific types of crime producing high statistics, diminishing safety and order; seen predictably as a way to rid the city of undesirables, otherwise invisible, homeless, drug addicted, mentally ill, “trash,” selling their bodies, of all the gross things they could do, and insultingly lumping law abiding transgender, gender unique persons into that mix. No one wants to be preached to about their lifestyle, their life choices particularly by people exuding holier than thou, people who have no idea what it is to spend every day of your life feeling like you are in the wrong body, suffer one more slight to your character, your dignity because of your gender issues. Even admitted prostitutes don’t want to hear it in light of the abuse they suffered leading to street work, work they turned to, to have food in their mouth, work they turned to after repeated rejection for even minimum wage work, the other half of what Monica Jones’ appearance was objecting to.

Chronicled idiosyncrasies that coincide with a related debate MSNBC had via the same show, the same host asking the question should sex work, prostitution be legal; and having been made legal, subsequently subject to taxes, pimps making an astonishing amount of money, subject to regulation meaning workers can contact police for nonpayment, issues like assault, be guaranteed minimum standards for safe working conditions, perhaps sex worker employers would be compelled to spend a little more on condoms, as they ensure the safety of their staff, than the measly 14%  reportedly spent currently vs. 60 plus percent’s spent on transportation, housing respectively. Compared to the experiment held in Colorado and its legalization of recreational marijuana; All In with Chris Hayes asking if a majority of the problems with sex work, surrounding prostitution comes from its prohibition instead of the activity itself. Shifting momentarily from the moral outrage, the clamor on the depravity of America, the depravity of any nation that allows the exchange of sex for money, the moral imperative it does irrevocable harm to participants, individuals being used for sex, government regulation means no underage girls permitted in the “trade,” the sex economy, would require pimps, sex employers to verify the age of their employees, actions not taken now. Government regulation would stipulate working parameters geared toward safety disallowing pimps, John’s, from assaulting workers, the former from withholding passport or other ID to ensure job performance, could mandate mandatory condom use, regular, routine STD screening and necessary treatment for workers as well as limits to the type of sexual activities legally allowed in such establishments; avoiding erotic asphyxiation for example, other violent forms of sexual congress, because they pose a serious risk of bodily injury or death. Hayes too challenging our perceptions of the average, typical sex worker-someone economically or circumstantially forced into prostitution, abuse victims, runaways who can’t get a legitimate, decent paying job sans a completed high school education, access to college; contrasted against those who comprehend the financial advantages, of age persons going into this with their eyes wide open, understanding the dangers, people who appear to like what they do, ignore the moral criticism and are emotionally, mentally, psychologically none the worse for wear. Likewise no one is suggesting we immediately become Amsterdam or that that is the best idea for America, any nation at the present time; what Mr. Hayes and the research he cited is trying to do is get us to ask the right questions, examine all angles. Let’s remember, negatives of sex trafficking do not flourish in countries that have decriminalized it, regulated it and brought it into the mainstream; sex trafficking, the sexual exploitation of people including children, flourishes in nations, regions where there are weak laws and lackadaisical enforcement. Think Southeast Asia; there is a reason despicable American men are going there to “enjoy,” profit from the sex trade there, no one is paying attention.    

Returning to the moral elephant in the room; quite honestly we have so many other moral imperatives to deal with, questions to answer before we can adequately discuss the merits of Project Rose or its simplest alternative, legalization. Two things that can easily be called equally bad ideas because none address the core problem; they do absolutely nothing to curtail the abuse leading young women into the industry, the prejudice, abandonment often forcing young men into sex work to survive. Neither offer better economic opportunities to aid those participating in sex work to avoid graduating college under crushing student loan debt, to get out from under accumulated student debts after college, not being able to find any job above minimum wage, pay for advanced training i.e. medical/law school; realities highlighted by the so called Duke porn star receiving both positive and negative attention for her choice of how to foot a $60,000 a year tuition bill. It doesn’t afford transgender persons improved insurance equating to they don’t have to turn tricks to get sex reassignment surgery, needed before and after care; every one a circumstance that lands someone into this seedy, underground business. Getting sex workers out of the life or legalizing and thus regulating it to be less tawdry, raunchy and sickening fails to account for wage stagnation leaving people with the body for sex work doing the math on what they can earn, the living wages found no other practical way. Neither option addresses the relentless demand for paid sex; middle aged, or older, men, who want an 18, or less, year old to pleasure them, who don’t see the need to cultivate a relationship when they can pay a hooker, the only way they can achieve sexual contact is to pay for it. Unmentioned are all the sexual aberrations out there aside from those associated with either sexual orientation or exchanging sex for money, sexual experimentation categories falling under kink, fetish, swingers clubs, wife swapping, threesomes, BDSM, S&M, sexual sadism, sex toys, sexual role play; subcultures people participate in freely, go in search of others who like the sexual behaviors, activities they do, evidenced by the numerous internet forums advertising a want, an interest in everything imaginable, people who  subsequently believe they might as well make money while doing it. Answering advocates who assert the harm is a sex worker who has 5-20 guys a day, speaking less to physical damage, degradation, injury, potential disease transmission, and more to the mental, emotional, psychological detriment of treating something that’s supposed to be about closeness, connection, love and pleasure as work, as an act you do is a whole different argument; an argument really stemming from how do we prevent the abuse dovetailing into victimized people feeling this is the one place they feel normal and can make a living. How do you prevent the early sexualization of young people, premature exposure to sexual kink; root causes leading to the preferences listed above, both translating into an interest, possible later involvement in facets of the adult industry.  Because unfortunately once over sexualization happens, exposure to kink results in a desire for it, a curiosity for it, the damage is done.

Exactly like a woman should not be interrogated, “counseled,” with the goal of talking her out of the procedure, before receiving an abortion, making decisions about her own body, no matter how long the debate over sexual morality goes on, arguably till the end of time, nowhere should you be rounded up and harassed for looking a certain way, being dressed a certain way, your gender identity. Nor should laws unfairly target persons, individuals or groups, whether that’s Hispanics, Latinos, Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, accosted, stopped by police on suspicion of being illegal immigrants or gay people for public displays of affection, transgender persons mistaken for prostitutes. In the end it isn’t whether sex work, prostitution should be made legal, be government regulated on the premise of making it safer, it isn’t even what we can do to prevent persons, particularly the already victimized, from being swallowed by this notoriously exploitative industry in this context. On the contrary, the red flag comes back to what officials choose to spend their time on, law enforcement to politicians; national, state and regional locality, entities who are living in a time vacuum trying to repeal voting rights to win elections taking the country in the direction they want it to go, virtually obsessed with our sex lives, be that pushing back against continuing to empower women upholding abortion rights, equal pay for equal work or their continued dispensary of idyllic 1950’s life as something we must go back to. People in power who spend so much time incensed and enraged about what homosexual people consent to do with each other, how transgender people choose to arrange their appearance; they forget no one is forcing them to participate. Less that Project Rose exists as the construct that it is, whether or not Monica Jones’ story completely holds water or not, is instead who police are being taught to look for, who they are filtering through the program and on what pretense, is the potential for unintended victims of not an illicit trade, illegal activity akin to drive by shootings, but a law.