July 23, 2008

I'm currently sitting on a bus from NYC to DC...

...and I'm online. What a scary and wonderful thing technology is. I suppose you could say the same thing about hard drugs.

July 13, 2008

Choice, Rights and Trafficking

A friend of mine emailed me with the following question:

I am wondering about the issue of workers rights. The issue of rights for a 14 year old feel blurry, especially if she is a foreigner or is being forced into the job. Economically, they need to make a living, but some of these girls are kidnapped or lured from former Soviet states and then they have no choice but to be involved in the trade. It seems to me there is the matter of kidnapping or being forced into it, but also another issue if girls feel they must do this business to survive because there are no other economic opportunities for them, including education or non-sex related work. Obviously, if someone is choosing that field it is one matter, but wouldn't the rights of someone forced into the sex trade include help getting out of slavery?

Here's my response (and I'm really curious to hear your thoughts, too!):

I think the issue changes a lot when talking about young girls as opposed to adult women. It's the conflation of everything into one problem: trafficking and sex work are thought of as the same thing (they're not), young women and adult women in the sex industry are all the same (also not true, but "poor adult women" are thought of in this very paternalistic way that they need to be protected from choosing options that "we know better" about) This results in making policies that apply homogenously to these very different populations and situations, which then lead to further rights violations. I've heard sex workers complain that when they got pulled into the industry, no one was helping them even though they said they didn't want to be there, and now that they're established as sex workers, anti-trafficking law enforcement doesn't listen to them when they say that this is the viable economic option they chose. Hence they feel denied choice on both counts.

There's also issues in terms of street children, homelessness, lack of educational opportunity, etc, etc, and when the economic/livelihood concerns are not being addressed, then it becomes that you are rescuing women (young or adult) but then having them do what? There's a huge emphasis on rescue, with little follow-up on what happens after that - and while I understand that people view the rescue part as being urgent and an emergency - but without follow-up, this methodology actually leads to more individuals being pulled into trafficked situations.

It also disturbs me that while we are livid about trafficking into the sex industry, we remain rather complacent about trafficking into all other labor. Which leads to the question: is it the trafficking and the exploitative circumstances we are livid about, or is it the existence of a sex industry?

What Do I Really Do Anyway? A 101 on Sex Worker Rights in India (and ITPA)

So I've been emailing a lot about my work lately, and there's some pretty interesting discussion coming out of it. I'm putting it up here for all to read. Feel free to post comments!

Hi guys!

This email is for all those of you who wonder what I actually do (hi mom and dad!):

So most of you know that I do work around HIV/AIDS and a lot of the time, I do stuff around rights of sex workers. But every now and then, you ask me the question, but what is it exactly that you DO? I have a perfect opportunity to fill you in right now, so I'm taking it.

I do a lot of things, but the part that I like best is that I'm a rights activist and community organizer. What this means is I try and raise awareness about how legal rights for sex workers (or the lack thereof) impact the lives of women and men in the sex industry and how the current policies needs to change. Raising awareness can mean a lot of things: writing articles, holding events (like rallies or press conferences), working with NGOs to get them to show their support for a group (by offering services, coming to events, signing a petition, etc.), writing letters to legislators, sensitizing press so that they cover an issue in a responsible and accurate way, teaching others in the community how to do effective organizing, supporting sex workers in networking efforts, etc., etc.

So recently, in India, there have been plans to amend this act called the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act which is the law that governs the Indian sex industry. Generally it is a very problematic law that has been consistently mis-implemented for the past 50 years of its existence. Basically, while the law is meant to penalize those who force individuals into the sex industry, it has mostly been used by law enforcement to harass and violate the rights of those who sell sex (whether because they are forced to or because it is a viable economic option that has been chosen by a particular individual).

The plan for amending it includes a whole bunch of proposals which would most likely drive the industry further underground, making for less safe working conditions for sex workers.
To read more about this check this.

So with this disaster in the works, the community of sex workers in India decided that we needed to raise awareness and protest these amendments. A lot of different organizations did a lot of different things, but in Pune, the sex workers' collective (Saheli) did some street theater to educate residents of Budhwarpeth (a red light district in Pune) about how this would impact their lives. The event was planned for July 1st, which was deemed a national day of protest for this issue.

What did we do to prepare? We did a press release, we notified other NGOs to get involved, we circulated a petition that is now being sent to legislators, we brainstormed ideas to perform for the event, and we contacted the press to come to the event.

So what happened? A great event! We reached an audience of over 1500 people in the area including sex workers, area residents, area visitors (aka the general public), customers, and anyone walking through Budhwarpeth that day. And the best news is that not only did we directly reach these people, but we got great press coverage the next day in 3 newspapers (2 english, 1 marathi - local language) through articles that were accurate and non-sensationalized (thanks to our press release!). So the numbers that we educated on this issue are multiplied greatly.

For those of you who are interested, the press coverage is available online. One article is at the link here (Indian Express)

So, now you know what I do. Questions, comments, and suggestions always welcome. :)

July 12, 2008

What Inner Human Rights Defender Are YOU?

This was really fun. I think this is the best quiz I've ever taken (Thanks, Heddy!)