SWOP SBC Response to “Anti-Trafficking” Article in SB Magazine

In case y’all missed it, this month’s issue of SB Magazine featured an “Anti-Trafficking” cover story (“Sex Trafficking in Northwest Louisiana,” July 2, 2015). Unfortunately, the article has created even more confusion between sex work and sex trafficking. We’d like to do our part to help straighten things out via this open letter to the folks at SB Mag.


Dear Editor,

I am writing in regard to your July 2, 2015 article, entitles “Sex Trafficking in Northwest Louisiana.” While there is no doubt that this is a topic that has generated much attention throughout Shreveport-Bossier City, the article fails to accurately represent the realities of trafficking in our community and falls prey to the same misguided rhetoric employed by “rescue” organizations and law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, many of these organizations, such as Polaris Project (cited in the article), as well as local organizations, like Purchased: Not For Sale, blur the lines between trafficking and sex work, resulting in a financial benefit to the organization but also creating an environment that is more dangerous for both sex workers and trafficking victims alike. I am co-founder of the Shreveport-Bossier City Chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-SBC), and am also a member of the Board of Directors for SWOP-USA. While our organization certainly opposes human trafficking in all forms, we also focus on the empowerment of sex workers through public education, awareness, advocacy, leadership development, and peer support.

On April 19th, I sent a message to your magazine when I learned that the article was being written. Unfortunately, I was not contacted by anyone prior to your date of publication. Your article raised a number of concerns, some of which I will highlight here.

My primary frustration is that when we conflate sex work with human trafficking, we are further muddying an already complex issue. This mischaracterization leads to many unintended consequences, two of which I believe your magazine would find undesirable: reducing access to resources for those who are seeking to transition out of the sex industry while also making it more difficult for trafficking victims to access services.

“It’s easy to make generalizations about prostitution, but the vast majority of sex workers are not committing these crimes out of free will” is itself an irresponsible generalization about sex work. There is, to my knowledge, no peer-reviewed study that can support this claim, and it is this type of language that further marginalizes the many individuals who choose to engage in sex work. Similarly, the assumption that engaging in sex work is inherently coercive is a fallacy. Those who have chosen sex work have done so for the same reasons that anyone chooses a job; considerations such as pay, schedule, available employment, workplace environment, and, yes, even enjoyment, among others. That is why these individuals are workers, just like anyone else who is paid to create a product or provide a service.

Sex workers have good days and bad days. Some love their jobs while some hate their jobs. Some would prefer to transition into another profession, whereas others would never dream of retiring. Some have a horrible boss, some have a great boss, and some are their own boss. We believe workers, in all industries, make choices regarding their current needs and future aspirations. Some workers have many other options, while some have very few. We do not believe that the agency exercised by sex workers is somehow any less valid than employment decisions made by auto mechanics or doctors or teachers or food service workers. Sex work is work, and sex workers are workers.

While many purport to take action against trafficking, what we seem to be talking about most frequently in this community is actually sex work, and only occasionally sex trafficking. Indeed, the aforementioned quote contextualizes the article as one addressing prostitution and sex work, despite a title related to sex trafficking. They are two very different things. Even among those discussing trafficking specifically, it is rare to hear conversations about human trafficking, particularly when some of the highest incidences of trafficking are not in the sex industry, but rather domestic and agricultural work. Your article continually blurs the lines between sex work and sex trafficking, yet gives no mention of the larger issue of human trafficking. Why?

Sex workers are not looking for “love, validation, or self-esteem.” They are looking to get paid. It is shameful to apply such condescending, exploitative language to an entire group of people with very different experiences and expectations, particularly when the only common denominator is their work. This type of language contributes to the already robust culture of shame surrounding sex work, as well as issues you highlighted in the article, such as mental illness, drug use, and poverty. Simplifying the dialogue, particularly with unfounded speculation, fuels the stigma surrounding those who work in the sex industry and, despite allegations of good intentions, often result in a further narrowing of available choices for those seeking to transition into a different field.

Your article discusses the use of Backpage.com for adult advertising, once again eliminating any distinction between trafficking and sex work, with the site being described as “a haven for pimps to purchase and post prostitution ads,” with “[n]inety-five percent of prostitution” allegedly being conducted via the site. Recently, Backpage was blacklisted by two major credit card companies after Chicago-area law enforcement officer Tom Dart took it upon himself to contact the companies and request their refusal of Backpage charges under the guide of “anti-trafficking” efforts. As is the trend, both Visa and MasterCard immediately blocked Backpage charges in an ill-advised attempt to appease Dart and others involved in the anti-trafficking movement.

Reducing access to tools like Backpage forces all people engaged in the sex trade further underground. This increase in secrecy correlates to an increase of very real dangers: violence, STI and HIV exposure, reduced opportunities for reporting and investigating crimes against workers, higher operating costs, elimination of basic human rights, and of course, trafficking. By isolating an already marginalized population, we risk making these individuals invisible, leading to additional stigma, discrimination and, subsequently, reduced access to services. In essence, efforts to force sexual service provision further into the background results in the very outcomes “rescue”-minded individuals and organizations claim to combat.

If the allegations made by Sheriff Dart, and mirrored in Agent Platt’s quotes in your article, were accurate, it is unlikely that the recent Backpage scandal would have seen such a tremendous groundswell of support from sex workers (#chargeisdeclined). Sex workers, managers (or, as you call them, “pimps”), and clients were forced to explore alternate payment options (including Bitcoin and Visa Vanilla, which, unlike credit cards, are designed to be untraceable, therefore resulting in a greater likelihood of trafficking and related crimes) in order to continue conducting their businesses. Ultimately, Backpage elected to suspend all advertising fees for ads related to sexual services, acting in a manner that is clearly contrary to the greedy depiction of Backpage in your article. Sex workers are not the ignorant, helpless victims you have portrayed; many are in fact savvy, business-minded entrepreneurs who understand their needs and their market, while also recognizing that openness – not secrecy – is the key to their safety and the realization of the very same human rights that are extended to those working in other industries.

I was particularly perplexed at the inclusion of statements by Agent Platts in the article, as his FBI Child Exploitation Task Force is one of the most notorious local examples of an agency failing to adhere to its mission. While the Task Force is indeed quite active and frequently collaborates with both the Shreveport and Bossier City Police Departments, one need look only as far as their blotters to see that their work is concentrated on stings directed at sex workers, managers, clients, and narcotics, rather than underage victims of human trafficking. This pattern is all too common in our area, with local law enforcement and non-profits receiving funding streams intended for “anti-trafficking” work, which are then redirected into attacks on sex workers. These agencies and organizations benefit financially when they blur the lines between trafficking and sex work, with local media serving as an unwitting platform to perpetuate the myths about these efforts. Without accurate public education, these resources will continue to be directed into efforts to offer a specific model of religious “salvation” and shaming to exotic dancers, prostitutes, Doms, erotic masseurs, cam models, and others who fail to meet any legal or practical definition of “trafficking.” Worse, these efforts also result in the accumulation of criminal records by any sex worker, including victims of trafficking, that results in a further narrowing of choices and countless barriers if and when a decision is made to leave the sex industry.

“Rescue” organizations and law enforcement continue to become wealthy on the backs of the very individuals they claim to support. If organizations like Purchased: Not for Sale were indeed adhering to the message they publicly maintain, my previous inquiries would have yielded responses on the specific service provisions available, as well as information on how the organization extends their services to men and LGBTIQA+ sex workers.

While I am well aware of the complexities of the issue and recognize that there will be varied opinions on the appropriate strategies to address human trafficking, I would again encourage you to please contact us for any subsequent coverage. There are ample resources available for further education via the SWOP-USA website, and I would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues in greater detail. I appreciate your willingness to discuss human trafficking via such a powerful forum; I only wish that the portrayal had been more representative of the true nature of this issue in our community.

– Brittany Turner, Co-Founder, SWOP-SBC


Open Society Foundation’s “10 Reasons to Decriminalize Sex Work”

The Open Society Foundation (OSF) has updated their 2012 brief on the decriminalization of sex work.

1. Decriminalization respects human rights and dignity.
2. Decriminalization helps protect against violence and abuse.
3. Decriminalization challenges police abuse and violence.
4. Decriminalization improves access to justice.
5. Decriminalization challenges the consequences of having a criminal record.
6. Decriminalization improves access to health services.
7. Decriminalization reduces risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
8. Decriminalization promotes safe working conditions.
9. Decriminalization allows for effective responses to trafficking.
10. Decriminalization challenges state control over bodies and sexuality.

Read the full brief at http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/publications/ten-reasons-decriminalize-sex-work

December 17th Event in SBC


SHREVEPORT – On December 17th, Shreveport will join more than 21 other cities in the United States and 33 cities internationally to recognize the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This year, local organizers are planning a vigil to raise awareness about the violence faced by sex workers. The vigil will begin at 7pm at the Caddo Parish Courthouse (501 Texas St.)

Colloquially referred to as December 17th, the event was organized by the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-USA) in 2003 in response to the sentencing of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. Over two decades, Ridgway murdered over 70 women, most of whom were sex workers. Because of their occupation, the murders went largely uninvestigated, allowing Ridgeway’s violence to continue. Today, dozens of sex worker rights and social justice organizations around the United States and world are staging marches, protests, and public events to call attention to violence that is still committed against sex workers.

Every year, SWOP-USA compiles a list of the names of sex workers who have died as a result of violence. This year’s list includes more than 160 names of sex workers who were murdered worldwide. The list highlights the diverse forms of violence that sex workers experience. Attacks against sex workers in 2014 included fundamentalists who massacred 28 women in a Baghdad, Iraq brothel, a US Marine who murdered a transgender sex worker in the Philippines, and the arrest of a convicted sex offender in the serial murder of seven sex workers in Gary, Indiana.

The largest proportion of names–34–come from the United States. Female sex workers in the United States are murdered at 17.7 times the national murder rate for women. As such, American sex workers are 50 times more likely to be murdered on the job than a police officer or liquor store clerk, 12 times the rate of taxi drivers, and 400 times the average person. (Source). Transgender sex workers may face even more violence. Though US-based research does not exist, a recent Turkish study found that 73% of all transgender sex workers had experienced violence, and nearly 50% had been physically assaulted by the police. (Source).

Violence against sex workers in the United States has been tied to its criminalization. Research suggests that sex workers do not view the police or hospitals as safe and often will not seek out help following violence because they fear arrest.

“Criminalizing sex work has not worked,” commented Lindsay Roth, SWOP-USA’s Board Chair. “We know that criminalization leads to more violence by stigmatizing sex workers and contributing to unsafe working conditions. If you fear arrest, negotiating your personal safety becomes a secondary concern.” SWOP-USA promotes decriminalizing sex work, or ending criminal penalties for the selling or purchasing of sex.

“We hope that December 17th sends a message that sex workers’ lives do matter, and that these victims were people worth remembering and protecting.”

* * *

Information about Shreveport’s December 17th event can be found at:

Information about December 17th and worldwide events can be found at: http://www.december17.org

Our Guiding Principles

Mission Statement
Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA is a national social justice network dedicated to the fundamental human rights of sex workers and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy.

Sex Worker Rights are Human Rights-Dignity and Respect
In the past “respect” and “dignity” were used against sex workers and other “un-pure” women to kill or imprison them. In our struggle for human rights we choose to reclaim these words and give them renewed meaning.

Through dignity we honor the unique diversity that is intrinsic in all people. We also choose to respect each person’s unique traits, abilities and oppressions which through our mutual respect lets us work together in a complimentary fashion to achieve our mutual goals.

The Sex Workers Outreach Project strives towards the conscious building of community, with consensual decision making, out of respect for all individuals. Communities help to keep us strong and safe by networking and enabling our own education and support systems. This community is strengthened by acknowledging diversity among its members and assisting members’ rights to self-representation. SWOP USA and its individual chapters aim to build communities which support, educate and unite its members. These communities facilitate our political voices and our ability to protect basic human rights. SWOP’s force as a community is fortified through the expression of solidarity among other sex worki positive groups and activists sharing common interests and goals. The Sex Workers Outreach project and its affiliates create a professional community and offer agency.

Sex Workers Outreach Project is committed to justice, equity, and compassion for sex workers and their communities. This commitment requires unity within our organization and within the global sex workers’ movement as a whole. We agree to value the diverse experiences and politics of our members, while placing group principles before individual passions or pursuits.

Self Determination
Our bodies are our own. Individuals retain the exclusive right to determine what they do and how they use our bodies under all circumstances. This choice remains proprietary to each individual in all aspects of life including occupational, health, lifestyle, sexual and reproductive choices. Self-determination and harm reduction are intrinsically linked. Our choices are always constrained by external forces. We believe in empowerment within these constraints along with social justice strategies to increase access to resources and services. We also acknowledge that the boundaries of self differ from culture to culture, and person to person. We protect and cherish the diversity of definition and of each individual and their rights to their bodies, thoughts, feelings, forms of expression and methods of living their lives.

Bodily Integrity
With the right to self determination of the propriety of choice and consent regarding our bodies, we state unequivocally the right to determine that sex worki is different from violence, sexual assault, slavery and trafficking in persons. Individual rights and consent determine the difference. We also reject the notion that sex worki is inherently linked with violence. Our visibility, awareness, rights and bodily integrity do not perpetuate, but directly oppose sexual violence. The presence of sex workers in social movements, the visibility of sex workers in communities of all kinds, and societal awareness of sex worker rights as fundamental to human rights in no way perpetuate violence, sexual assault, slavery and trafficking in persons. The converse is true-our visibility and knowledge directly oppose sexual violence.

We agree to recognize and challenge all forms of oppression.
We are committed regardless of the form of oppression; be it racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, trans-phobia, ageism, elitism, prohibitionism, and all other systems and behaviors of discrimination which marginalize, exclude or de-humanize any one person or group.

We realize that the most important work for us is within ourselves and our community. We take responsibility for our own prejudices and actions which perpetuate oppression thru individual action and active participation in addressing privilege when it’s recognized and being constantly vigilant for privileged actions both within ourselves, and those around us. To this end, we continually work to identify our individual, systematic and organizational privileges, how they intersect our lives both internally and externally, and learn how to be allies with our privileges by recognizing the benefits and costs.

We express our commitment to anti-racist/anti-oppressive principles as a group by engaging and constantly evolving a PROGRAM OF ACTION around these principles.

Our chapter will do something to recognize, or partner with another organization to recognize the following events:
* March 3rd, International Sex Worker Rights Day
* Local LGBTIQQ Pride
* Nov 20th, Transgender Day of Remembrance
* December 17th, International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers