Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Truth About Trafficking and Sex Work

by Alison Bass
author of Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law

Charla Hathaway, who has a PhD in sexology and looks like a very sexy grandma (think Susan Sarandon in the movie Tammy), helps couples re-ignite the sexual spark in their marriages through erotic exercises and massage. But a number of weeks ago, PayPal froze Hathaway’s account, locking up thousands of dollars of her earnings and forcing her to find alternative ways to accept client payments.

Hathaway’s experience is far from an isolated case, civil rights lawyers say. At a recent conference in Washington, D.C. a First Amendment attorney said that PayPal’s actions are part of a broader effort by government and law enforcement officials to crack down on companies that provide financial services for sex workers and others in the adult industry. Earlier this year, an Illinois prosecutor pressured MasterCard and Visa into refusing to process transactions for Backpage, an online website that posts ads for sex workers. At a time when much of the developed world has decriminalized sex work—with Amnesty International recently calling for decriminalization as the answer to much of the violence and abuse that surrounds commercial sex—the United States appears to be lurching in the opposite direction toward harsher criminal and civil penalties for sex workers and those such as Hathaway who operate in the gray area between sex work and therapy.

This crackdown, advocates say, stems from the current hysteria around sex trafficking, which has been whipped up by grossly inaccurate statistics and media accounts of young girls forced into the sex trade by evil traffickers (once known as evil pimps). While the truth about trafficking is far more nuanced and complex than this (as I discovered in researching my book, Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law), a coalition of conservative religious groups and feminists have used the hysteria to successfully push for a slew of anti-trafficking laws. But these measures appear to be hurting the very people they are supposed to protect. Not only are police in many states using trafficking laws to arrest adults engaged in consensual sex, but the laws are making things worse for teenagers selling survival sex on the streets of American cities.

Cases in point:

  • Since the original trafficking protection law was passed in 2000, the total number of arrests for underage prostitutes has actually increased. Under this law, juveniles, many of whom have run away from homes where they were being molested or abused, are supposed to be treated as victims. Yet many end up being arrested, and social workers who work with these youth say they are often re-traumatized by the criminal justice system.
  • Instead of targeting traffickers and exploitative pimps, police in some cities are harassing the most marginalized people in the sex trade: minority and transgender sex workers. Washington, DC, police recently raided several local brothels and arrested 16 alleged trafficking victims. In actuality, they were all African-American or Latino sex workers, age 19 to 26, who were not being trafficked, according to Cyndee Clay, executive director of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive (HIPS), a nonprofit outreach organization in Washington.
  • In Alaska, Karen Carpenter, the owner of an Anchorage massage parlor (where she worked with two other women) was charged in 2013 with sex trafficking and managing a place of prostitution. According to the Alaska News, she was found guilty of sex trafficking in the third degree (a felony), even though the women who worked with her were doing sex work by choice.
  • In Virginia, one of the sex workers whom I profile in my book, a beautiful bi-racial woman whose professional name is Joi Love, was arrested and accused of trafficking another woman. The other woman, who had been arrested in a prostitution sting by police, turned Joi and her boyfriend in to avoid being charged herself. Richmond police pressured Joi to testify against her boyfriend in order to have her own trafficking charge dismissed, but she refused. Joi ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor prostitution charge in order to have the more serious charges against her dropped.
  •  Illegal immigrants who are arrested and charged with prostitution are often deported regardless of whether they are doing sex work by choice. A 2010 study of 1,515 municipal police departments in the U.S. found that even immigrants who said they were trafficked were more likely to get deported than be designated as victims deserving of a special visa and support services.
  • The way state and federal anti-trafficking laws are written, most of the funding goes to law enforcement and not into services that can help underage and adult sex workers with housing, education, counseling and support so they can stop doing sex work if they so choose. 

The problem with our current approach to sex work is that it is both counterproductive and ineffective from a public health and safety standpoint. As I’ve blogged about here and here, laws that criminalize the sale and purchase of sex only make working conditions more dangerous for sex workers (and other women) and contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. A 2015 study confirms this cause and effect. It is no coincidence that the Netherlands, which decriminalized sex work in the 1970s and legalized it in 2000, has the lowest rate of HIV in the world. Sex workers experience much less violence in that country as well.

As the experience in the Netherlands and other countries shows, when prostitution is not criminalized, sex workers are better able to negotiate safe sex (i.e. sex with condoms) and more comfortable reporting violent clients and abusive pimps to the police. By contrast, after Sweden criminalized the purchase of sex in 1999, sex workers were forced into more dangerous, isolated spaces and were less able to negotiate safe sex with clients who feared being arrested. While the Swedish law has reduced the number of street walkers in that country, the overall numbers of sex workers there has not declined nor has the incidence of sex trafficking, according to reports prepared for the Swedish government.

Similarly, while anti-trafficking advocates argue that closing down Backpage would help fight trafficking, in reality, denying sex workers the ability to advertise on Backpage and other online sites only make their lives more dangerous. As I blogged about here, having the ability to advertise online allows sex workers to more carefully screen potential customers and work indoors. Research shows that when sex workers can’t advertise online, they are often forced onto the street, where it is more difficult to screen out violent clients and negotiate safe sex. They are also more likely to have to depend on exploitative pimps to find customers for them.

Just as with legalizing marijuana, decriminalizing sex work would go a long way toward alleviating many of the problems associated with commercial sex today. So why are U.S. officials so intent on ignoring this simple truth?

Visit Alison Bass' website sexworkersandthelaw.com to find out more about her book, Getting Screwed, to read more of her writings on the sex trade, and to see where she'll appear on her book tour this fall.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Six Books for Helen

Main Street in Colebrook, New Hampshire

by Richard Adams Carey
author of In the Evil Day: Violence Comes to One Small Town

The first spooky moment was meeting Steve Brooks in the parking lot outside the Tillotson Arts Center in Colebrook, NH, as he arrived early for my talk and book signing there.

Now retired from his work as a Border Patrol agent, Brooks is as brave a man as you could hope to meet. On August 19, 1997, he was one of three—along with state trooper Chuck West and Fish & Game conservation officer Sam Sprague—who put themselves directly in Carl Drega’s line of fire in order to rescue wounded BP agent John Pfeifer.

Drega, a 62-year-old carpenter and millwright, had carried on a 25-year property dispute with selectmen in the town of Columbia, next door to Colebrook. On that day in August, at a traffic stop at a supermarket in Colebrook, Drega had gotten out his pickup with an assault rifle and murdered troopers Scott Phillips and Les Lord. Then he drove to downtown Colebrook, where he murdered lawyer and former Columbia selectman Vickie Bunnell, and also newspaper editor Dennis Joos, who tried to save Vickie.

Richard Adams Carey
After several more incidents, Drega disappeared into the Vermont woods. There he set up an ambush in which Pfeifer and two NH state troopers were wounded. Brooks also proved himself a cool marksman. A bullet from his M16 was one of the two rounds that hit Drega at once, killing him instantly. Chuck West fired the other.

That‘s only a sliver of all that happened that day. There was also all that led up to it, and then the aftermath of a rampage that ran up and down the Upper Connecticut Valley and caught up hundreds of people as bystanders, witnesses, potential victims.

Grief and anger still run like a subterranean river beneath Colebrook, which is the primary reason that my book In the Evil Day took 13 years to research and write. Well, there were so many people to talk to, and I never did get to them all. But mostly I was delayed by how difficult it was for anyone to talk about what happened, to go over that bloody ground again.

Some just couldn’t, and politely refused my interview requests. Some of those—politely—objected to anyone writing a book about the incident. It would only stir up the grief, rub salt in the wounds, they said.

Most, however, did agree to talk. In many of those interviews a whole lot of grief was stirred up, and tears shed again by people of both genders. I found through those interviews a story that had the breadth and twists of a novel and that needed to be told—not on behalf of the grief, but rather the extraordinary grace and courage that so many ordinary people displayed that day. Some, like Steve Brooks, had been trained to confront mortal peril. Most were not, but did so anyway.

In the Evil Day was published on September 1, and eight days later it was introduced to the town in an event sponsored by the Colebrook Area Historical Society. The CAHS wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but they decided to take a chance on it. Nor was I at all confident.

I had interviewed Steve Brooks in 2009 and not seen him since then. But I had also spent every day of the last six years with him, weaving the man and his experiences into the fabric of my story. He had become like a fictional character to me, and that was why—seeing him again in flesh-and-blood outside the Tillotson Center—I had that spooky sensation. I felt like Thornton Wilder suddenly confronted by, say, Dr. Gibbs from Our Town.

http://www.upne.com/1611687156.htmlThere were many more “characters” from my story present that night. Two of the most important were John Harrigan and Charlie Jordan. Harrigan was the owner of the News and Sentinel newspaper, where Vickie and Dennis were killed. He had been called out of town, and then came back to find the woman he loved lying dead in the parking lot. Finally he mustered the survivors of his staff and put out an issue of the Sentinel that would earn a Pulitzer nomination.

Jordan was a fellow journalist who happened to have his camera handy and was first on the scene at the newspaper building, taking photos even as he feared the killer’s possible return. He stayed to help get the paper out that night, and then took Dennis’s place as its editor.

They took the podium before I did—first Charlie, then John. They both had read drafts of the manuscript and praised the book not just as a work of history, but as a salve, not salt, to these wounds. I followed them, talking about my research and reading from chapter one. I could feel myself being taken in, my book being welcomed.

More spooky moments ensued as people from my story appeared in the line for signed copies. Most excruciating was my encounter with Helen Lord, the mother of Les Lord. She had copies for herself, her three daughters, and for Les’s son and grandson. My heart clenched to think of this radiant, loving woman reading a description of the murder of her only son.

That son had been a kindhearted prankster with a legendary laugh, beloved throughout the North Country, a place where the line between trooper and the guy next door is indiscernible. As I signed books for Helen, though, I remembered that this story is less about how Les Lord died, more about how he lived and who he was—the written historical record of why people thought so much of him, and why their grief endures.

Of course we wouldn’t grieve so hard if we didn’t love so well. It’s only in memory, in honoring and preserving it, that the love outlasts the grief—and that the courage outlasts it as well.

Helen Lord, a very brave woman herself, gave me a hug before she gathered up her books and went outside. By then it was dark, but the stars were out.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

9 Things You Didn't Know Were Paid For by a Lottery

by Kevin Flynn
author of American Sweepstakes: How One Small State Bucked the Church, the Feds, and the Mob to Usher in the Lottery Age

Most of us think of lotteries—with their cornucopia of scratch tickets and nine-figure jackpots—as creations of modern America. As I explore in my new book, American Sweepstakes (October 2015), after being severely curtailed by federal laws in the 1890s, New Hampshire launched the first state-run lottery in 1964. Since then, 42 other states have followed, with most dedicating proceeds to education.

But lotteries themselves—some legal, some not—have been around for centuries and have served as a popular method for raising funds for various causes and public works projects. Here is a list of things that likely would never have been built or accomplished without lotteries—the original crowdsourcing campaign:

1. The Great Wall of China


Around 200 BC, the Western Han Dynasty used a lottery to pay for repairs to and expansion of the Great Wall. They created an early form of Keno called the “white pigeon game,” named for the birds that carried results from village to village.

2. The roads to Rome


All roads may lead to Rome, but not all roads could be maintained without spare change from the plebeians. Booty from military conquests was raffled off, the proceeds going toward Imperial infrastructure.

3. Voltaire’s academic career


In the 1700s, a French national lottery was created after the bond market collapsed. To encourage bond purchases, lottery tickets were awarded against a fractional percentage of the purchase. Voltaire and his friend, mathematician Charles Marie de la Condamine, discovered a mathematical flaw in the program that allowed them to purchase large qualities of tickets with cheap bonds. Before the government caught on, Voltaire made enough on his winnings to live comfortably while pursuing philosophy.

4. Jamestown colony


In order to finance the privately held Virginia Company of London, King James I granted the company the authority to hold a lottery to raise funds for a grand exposition. Proceeds were used to create Jamestown, the first English colony in the New World. You can say that America itself is the offspring of a lottery.

5. The Ivy League


How did these frontier colleges become the elite learning institutions of America? During the 1700s, many of them raised money for new buildings or dormitories through lotteries (some running them multiple times). Among the schools that relied on games of chance to build their campuses include Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, and the forerunners to Columbia and UPenn (whose motto was “Laws without morals are useless”).

6. The Continental Army


Running out of money to continue its revolution against the Crown, the Continental Congress authorized a national lottery to raise cash for the fight. General Washington bought the first ticket. It fell far short of its $10 million goal, but individual colonies did well financing their militias with lotteries. Massachusetts earned $750,000 to provide bonus for new volunteers.

7. Boston's Faneuil Hall


Because the early states had trouble collecting taxes and the bonds they issued were weak, many communities relied on legal gambling to pay for public needs. Proceeds paid for canals in Pennsylvania, aquafers in Kentucky, bridges in Connecticut, and fire-fighting equipment in St. Louis and Detroit. When Faneuil Hall, one of Boston’s most iconic landmarks, was leveled by fire in 1761, John Hancock helped organize a lottery for its reconstruction.

8. The estate of Thomas Jefferson


Deeply in debt at the end of his life, Jefferson petitioned the Virginia legislature to allow him to run a personal lottery with his effects and landholding as prizes. Jefferson had always been a supporter of lotteries, describing them as a tax “laid only on the willing.” However, before he could run his lottery, Jefferson died and these items were instead sold at an estate sale.

9. Washington, DC


Congress approved a $100,000 jackpot in the 1823 Grand National Lottery, profits of which were to be put toward restoring and expanding Washington, DC. After the winners were drawn, the broker contracted to conduct the lottery absconded with all of the proceeds—never to be seen again. The grand prize winner sued and the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had to pay up.

For more info about author Kevin Flynn and his new book, American Sweepstakes, visit his website at www.authorkevinflynn.com, and follow him on Twitter @kevinpflynn.