SOLIDARITY WITH OTRAS - the Spanish Government must not ban sex workers from unionising

SWARM joins with the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) in denouncing the attempt by the Spanish Government to ban the sex worker union OTRAS (@OtrasSindicato‏). We call on sex worker organisations, trade unions, human rights and feminist organisations internationally to do the same.

As sex workers, we know that we will only win our rights through organising collectively as workers, including in recognised trade unions. That is the way workers in other industries have fought labour exploitation and improved the lives of their members. It is a bitter irony that a government which claims to be socialist and feminist has declared itself opposed to the efforts of sex workers to self-organise and fight for better conditions. Sex workers should be leading the conversation on the issues which affect us directly, not banned from the table.

The template letter of protest below has been drafted by ICRSE, to be sent to Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain. He has personally tweeted that OTRAS’ registration as a union will be revoked.

You can use this form on the Spanish Government website to send the letter: https://escribealpresidente.presidencia.gob.es/formulario

Or tweet at the Prime Minister: https://twitter.com/sanchezcastejon


TEMPLATE LETTER:

For attention of:

Mr Pedro Sanchez, Prime Minister of Spain

Date

City, Country

Dear Mr Sanchez,

[ insert information about yourself or your organisation here ]

Sex workers in Spain, as in many countries in Europe and globally, are amongst the most marginalised and discriminated against members of society who experience high levels of violence and human rights violations. Whilst European governments may have different views on prostitution or sex work, we are deeply shocked to see that the new socialist government of Spain is seeking to ban the union of sex workers. To our knowledge, the only other country in the region which has refused sex workers’ right to self-organise is Russia[1]. The attempt to invalidate the registration of the sex workers’ union brings shame to the Socialist government of Spain and constitutes a dangerous and harmful breach of human rights law.

The European Convention on Human Rights recognises, under Article 11, the fundamental right to form and to join trade unions, which makes unionisation an established right that applies across the Council of Europe.  Spain has also ratified several international human rights treaties that further recognise the fundamental human right of workers to organise and unionise. Some examples include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which, under Article 22, states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of [their] interests”.   Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes “the right of everyone to form trade unions...for the promotion and protection of [their] economic and social interests.” In addition, the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) further establishes the fundamental rights of workers to organise and notes in Article 4 that workers’ organisations “shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority”, which is precisely what the Spanish government is attempting to do here.  These actions are, therefore, in direct breach of European and international human rights law.

The Government’s actions are being justified on the basis that sex work is illegal in Spain but that is not an accurate description of the legal situation in Spain, where the selling of sexual services is not directly criminalised.  Regardless of the specific legal situation, however, it is crucial that sex workers, a marginalised group of workers, who are often vulnerable to exploitation, be provided with the opportunity to organise and unionise to fight collectively for the protection of their rights and interests.  The International Labour Organisation recognises sex workers as workers as confirmed in the drafting of its Recommendation 200 on HIV/AIDS[2] and the world of work. It was noted that sex workers were absolutely included under the scope of this Recommendation, which applies to “all workers working under all forms or arrangements, and at all workplaces...including...the informal and formal economies” (para 2).

Supporting the organisation and unionisation of sex workers has been recognised by several United Nations agencies as a key element in the fight against HIV (see, for example, the Sex Worker Implementation Tool[3] produced by the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and UNFPA).  These key UN agencies are joined by countless other human rights organisations including Amnesty International[4], Human Rights Watch[5], the International Lesbian and Gay Association Europe[6] and Transgender Europe[7] in calling for the recognition of sex work as work and the full decriminalisation of sex work.  The importance of sex worker organising was recently evidenced in an extensive study by the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women[8], which highlighted how sex worker unions and collectives were key in fighting against exploitation in the sex industry and ensuring that the human, economic, social, political, and labour rights of sex workers are recognised and respected by state and non-state actors.

In Spain sex work isn’t illegal, according to Art.188 of The Spanish penal code. Sex work is broader than “prostitution” and the majority of those modalities are perfectly legal and contribute to Spain’s GDP. However, due to the stigma that comes along with their labour, sex workers can’t find support in the existing Spanish labour unions when they suffer abusive working conditions. In fact states should provide better legal tools to workers in economic sectors that are more liable to vulnerability, like sex work or agriculture, such as for example the abuses suffered by Huelva’s seasonal workers in strawberry farms.

By this letter, we wholeheartedly condemn the recent public announcement from the Spanish Prime Minister to ‘annul’ the Labour Office approval of a sex workers’ union, OTRAS. We demand the recognition and support of OTRAS by the government, trade union congress and other Spanish institutions.

Sincerely,

Name

Organisation

Country

[1] https://www.redumbrellafund.org/sex-workers-stand-russias-discriminatory-draconian-laws/

[2] http://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/99thSession/texts/WCMS_142613/lang--en/index.htm

[3] http://www.who.int/hiv/pub/sti/sex_worker_implementation/en/

[4] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/05/amnesty-international-publishes-policy-and-research-on-protection-of-sex-workers-rights/

[5] http://www.nswp.org/timeline/event/human-rights-watch-affirm-support-decriminalisation

[6] https://www.ilga-europe.org/blog/why-we-have-new-policy-lgbti-sex-work

[7] https://tgeu.org/sex-work-policy/

[8] https://www.gaatw.org/resources/publications/941-sex-workers-organising-for-change


Women's Equality Party leader owes sex workers an apology

SWARM, Scot-Pep and National Ugly Mugs are calling for an apology after the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, Sophie Walker, publicly dismissed a sex working woman as a “sex bot”.

Walker is surely aware that it is women’s perceived disposability that props up violence. For sex workers this is heightened – and Walker’s comments only add to this stigma. Much is made of the misogynist language used by sex workers’ clients. To hear the leader of the Women’s Equality Party dehumanise us in the same way is truly disturbing.

Hurtful things can be said on all sides of this heated debate. Indeed, the tweet to which Walker responded was, itself, misogynistic – but we would ask the Women’s Equality Party to take into account the vast power inequality in this exchange and the fact that Walker felt it appropriate to share her “sex bot” comment with 33,000 followers. The sex work community must hold itself accountable for the pitfalls of misogynistic rhetoric when it arises. We can simultaneously be self-critical whilst also demanding humanisation. We urge the Women's Equality Party to exercise the same self-reflection.

The same goes for Walker’s comment to another sex worker, who called out her lack of knowledge on the topic, that “As a woman who claims to be doing this from choice you are in a powerful position to help other women who don’t have a choice. Protecting yourself to their cost isn’t ok.”

We would like to unpick this. Firstly, Walker’s inability to distinguish between sex workers’ marketing and their real life situation speaks to a complete lack of understanding of the industry. Her suggestion that a sex worker’s power is somehow equivalent to her own is baffling.

Most importantly though, we would like to draw attention to the view – repeated by many high profile feminists – that sex workers and sex worker-led organisations calling for decriminalisation are doing so at the expense of the exploited. Branding us as “pimps” is a blatant attempt to discredit our voices. Likewise, the suggestion that any man who supports our rights must be a punter is a handy way of discrediting any men who disagree with their opinion, and ensuring that their only opponents are those less privileged than them.

Many of us have encountered violence and exploitation at work. Our more privileged members recognise their position. The idea that sex workers themselves are somehow devoid of empathy for the more marginalised, while comfortably-off politicians and journalists are filled with compassion is bizarre.

We campaign for decriminalisation because it is better for all sex workers, not only a chosen few. When sex workers are arrested for soliciting or brothel-keeping, nobody wins. Sex workers are disproportionately migrants, single mothers, people with illnesses and disabilities, trans people; those who have struggled or been unable to make money in any other way. We imagine a world in which everyone had access to housing and healthcare, in which austerity has ended, in which childcare is free and mothers have the ability to feed their children. We imagine a world with open borders in which no human is “illegal” and under whose conditions trafficking would not flourish.

What we do not believe is that increased police powers and enforcement against sex workers is the way to bring this about. Criminalising any aspect of the sex industry does nothing to end poverty or give migrants better options for work.

For as long as we sell sex, we should be able to do so as safely as possible. Decriminalisation won’t make the world a perfect place but it will mean we can work together in safety, that we can screen our clients and that the deep stigma which makes our lives seem worthless will lessen.

We are calling on the Women’s Equality Party to acknowledge and apologise for the careless and dangerous message espoused by its leader last night. While sex workers are viewed as nothing more than “sex bots”, no wonder we are such easy targets.

 

 

 

 

Shame on Police Scotland - migrant sex workers need rights not raids!

SWARM has recently learned that Police Scotland are attempting to recruit students in Edinburgh as informants in their enforcement of a “hostile environment” policy towards migrant sex workers. We urge students and the wider public to inform themselves of the reality of the police and immigration authorities violent treatment of migrant sex workers, and to resist these efforts.

Under the pretense of investigating human trafficking, police officers are seeking to encourage students to report flats occupied by Eastern European women that show “signs” sex work is happening there - for example, men leaving and entering the premises or residents being "unwilling to engage with neighbours". These attempts to encourage suspicion, profiling and criminalisation of our migrant neighbours who may or may not be sex workers, has extremely harmful consequences, both for those who are victims of trafficking and those who are not.

Police Scotland’s raids on indoor sex work premises have previously received strong criticism from sex workers and public health organisations for seizing condoms as evidence of illegal activity, showing their total lack of concern for the health of workers.

In November, police raided an Edinburgh flat occupied by sex worker Elena Isaila, charging her with brothel keeping offences. A Restriction of Liberty Order was placed on Elena for six months and she was ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work as punishment. Elena is a mother who was supporting her 17 month old son and 13 year old daughter. This is the cruel reality of police crackdowns on indoor premises.

We know that across the UK, police forces are using public concern for victims of human trafficking as a cover for stepping up arrests, detentions and deportations of migrant sex workers. Those who do come forward to police as victims of trafficking are treated with the same violent contempt -- recently a Thai woman who was trafficked into the UK sex industry and came forward to seek asylum was arrested and taken to Yarls Wood detention centre. She has been told she will be deported even though she faces great danger in Thailand.

Police Scotland cannot seriously suggest that reporting migrant sex workers is intended to support them in escaping sexual exploitation, when the hostile environment they are creating makes it impossible for those same workers to come forward and directly contact police themselves. Encouraging a social environment of suspicion between neighbours only encourages increasing ill-will towards migrants, as well as increasing fear and alienation for migrants who see themselves as being under constant surveillance. This initiative will only further isolate migrant sex workers, making them more vulnerable to abuse and coercion.

In addition, it will further encourage migrants to work outdoors - where chances of violence are significantly higher - to escape their indoor work spaces, which are also often their homes, being monitored and raided. It will further strengthen the existing effects of the brothel keeping law that encourages sex workers to work alone rather than together, making them more vulnerable to violence.

Migrant sex workers are members of the community that should be valued and respected. Many of them are students themselves, meaning that this initiative will encourage students to turn in their own coursemates, and encourage staff to report people that are often vulnerable and who they have a duty to protect. These informants will be wrongfully convinced that they are protecting these workers, when in fact their actions will put them in greater danger.

This initiative is the latest step in a greater trend in which police forces and immigration authorities around the UK are recruiting public sector workers such as doctors and teachers to act as informants against migrants and people of colour. Mirroring the Prevent agenda in which those working in education institutions have been encouraged to treat students of colour and Muslim students as suspects of extremism, it is clear that this is a form of xenophobic profiling that targets and criminalises migrant communities.

Police Scotland’s approach represents a shockingly cruel attempt to turn members of the public into informants that migrant sex workers will have to fear. It will result in further isolation of already marginalised people, and rather than combating trafficking, this will lead to individuals being more vulnerable to predators and danger. We call on Police Scotland to terminate this initiative immediately, and for students and education workers to refuse to comply.

SWARM opposes SESTA-FOSTA

SWARM is horrified by the Senate passing of SESTA-FOSTA in the US. Already, its effects are being felt and our solidarity is with workers in the US, particularly those in more precarious positions, who will undoubtedly be worst affected.

SWARM has spent the last few days offering internal support to our many panicked members and we are keenly aware of the wide-reaching implications of this legislation. We’ll do our best to bring you more practical information as things become clearer.

WHAT IS SESTA-FOSTA?

The US Senate has passed both Stop Enabling Sex-Trafficking Act (SESTA) and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).

Both of these acts amend a current pieces of legislation, the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, which protects online platforms/websites from liability for what their users post.

Although SESTA-FOSTA have been passed in the name of preventing sex trafficking, they are worded to include all prostitution.

FOSTA reads as follows:

“This bill expresses the sense of Congress that section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 was not intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution […]

(Sec. 3) The bill amends the federal criminal code to add a new section that imposes penalties—a fine, a prison term of up to 10 years, or both—on a person who, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (or attempts or conspires to do so) to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.”

In other words, it is now a federal crime to post or host prostitution adverts or anything which could “facilitate” prostitution.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SEX WORKERS?

Websites and platforms are already removing content as their owners could be liable for a 25-year jail sentence.

So far, Backpage has removed its adult content, the Erotic Review (TER) has removed its ad boards, Preferred411.com (P411) is no longer hosting ads for non-US workers, Craigslist has removed its personals section, Google Drive is apparently taking down sex workers’ content and CityVibe has shut down.

SWARM has heard reports of workers having their websites deleted for hosting with US-owned companies and, since most social media platforms are based in the US, sex workers worldwide are having to make significant shifts in their advertising, with many now scrambling to find safe alternatives.

Sex workers are having not only their means of survival shut down but also their means of sharing information and staying safe. Reddit’s removal of sex-work related sub-Reddits is a chilling example of how even discussion of sex work may now be censored in the US.

Sex worker-led groups and anti-trafficking organisations have been calling for reason since the bills were announced. Not only will SESTA-FOSTA be toothless when it comes to fighting sex trafficking, it will create immediate and lasting danger for sex workers who need to keep working to survive.

Since the shutdown of Backpage, which largely inspired this bill, the number of safe spaces to advertise online is dwindling, leaving sex workers to consider higher-risk outdoor work when they may not have had to before. A recent study found a 17 percent decrease in homicides with female victims after Craigslist erotic services was introduced. When sex workers don't have access to digital resources – such as Craigslist, Backpage, Rentboy or MyRedBook – they are more likely to engage in street work.

This bill is a blatant example of the conflation between coerced sex trafficking and consensual sex work. This will not stop sex trafficking, but instead render it more difficult to locate those who may be in danger, whilst placing those who were previously working in safer ways into jeopardy: conditions that will allow trafficking to thrive. From the outset, SETSA-FOSTA has been opposed by many survivors.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

In the US, sex workers have been mobilising to offer support and find solutions as the world of online sex work shrinks around them. Sex worker Liara Roux has written guide to protecting yourself online at TitsandSass. You can get more information (and, if you’re able, send donations to) @redlightlegal, @swopbehindbars and survivorsagainstsesta.org.

Sex workers in the UK should be aware that any website or content built or hosted on US-owned platforms (eg Squarespace or GoDaddy) may be at risk. Likewise, some domain suffixes (such as .com) are under US jurisdiction.

We will do our best to keep you updated on how best to keep working and stay safe.

WHAT NEXT?

SETSA-FOTSA was voted in overwhelmingly by US Congress but is has yet to be signed into law. In the meantime, there will be a constitutional challenge argued likely on free speech and due process grounds.

Sex workers are an easy target and, by posing the legislation as part of the “fight against sex trafficking”, congress has made palatable a measure will has vast implications for internet freedom.

In the UK, against the backdrop of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (aka Snoopers' Charter) and in light of the CLOUD Act, signed into law in the US last week, allowing foreign police and states to collect and wiretap people's communications from US companies, without obtaining a US warrant, SETSA-FOSTA should alarm us all.

"Websites are shutting down users' speech because they fear prosecution and litigation as a result of Congress passing SESTA/FOSTA," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "This is what internet censorship looks like.

"When platforms over-censor their users, marginalized communities are often silenced disproportionately.”

GET MORE INFO HERE:

http://swopbehindbars.org/2018/02/26/understanding-fosta-sesta/
http://titsandsass.com/sex-workers-are-not-collateral-damage-kate-dadamo-on-fosta-and-sesta/
https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/10/sex-trafficking-experts-say-sesta-wrong-solution
http://swopbehindbars.org/2018/03/23/understanding-sesta/
https://injusticetoday.com/anti-online-trafficking-bills-advance-in-congress-despite-opposition-from-survivors-themselves-e741ea300307
https://survivorsagainstsesta.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/onlinespaces_impact-003.pdf

 

 

SWARM and ECP celebrate former prostitutes' high court win

SWARM and ECP congratulate the three women who last week won in court the right not to reveal their criminal convictions for prostitution to prospective employers.

The women have multiple convictions for soliciting or loitering under the Street Offences Act, and their records will be amended to filter out these convictions. The women in this landmark case are victims of exploitation but the ruling will apply to all sex workers with loitering and soliciting convictions.

Every year, hundreds of sex workers are criminalised under prostitution laws.[1] Women of colour, migrant and trans women are most likely to be targeted. ECP and SWARM point to other changes that are urgently needed; specifically that criminal records for prostitution should be fully expunged. Under last week’s court ruling the police will still have access to the information that someone has been convicted for soliciting and this can result in discriminatory treatment.

Alongside soliciting, we call for brothel-keeping to be decriminalised, as it is primarily being used to prosecute sex workers working together collectively for safety. This is in line with the recommendations [2] of the Home Affairs Committee which called on the government to:

“ . . . change existing legislation so that soliciting is no longer an offence and so that brothel-keeping provisions allow sex workers to share premises” and that legislation should be drafted to provide for the “deletion of previous convictions and cautions for prostitution from the record of sex workers.”

After full decriminalisation was introduced in New Zealand in 2003, the government found that “a provision to allow people to apply for historical convictions to be removed from their record had made it easier for sex workers to leave prostitution.”[3]

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[1] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2017). Bulletins: Raids, Arrests and Prosecutions. Available at: http://prostitutescollective.net/bulletins/

[2] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. Prostitution (Third Report of Session 2016-17). Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhaff/26/26.pdf

[3] English Collective of Prostitutes. (2015). Decriminalisation of Prostitution: the Evidence. Available at: http://prostitutescollective.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Online-Symposium-Report.pdf

Rest in Power, Laura Lee

SWARM and ECP are devastated by the death of Laura Lee. Laura was a major figure in the sex worker rights movement; a fearless campaigner, a loyal comrade and, to many of us, a dear friend. Our thoughts are with Laura’s family and, in particular, her daughter Cat. Laura’s loss is unspeakably sad.

A sex worker for twenty years, Laura was a long-standing activist and a member of the Sex Worker Alliance Ireland (SWAI). She became a figurehead in the global fight for decriminalisation when she launched a judicial review of the 2015 law which implemented the Nordic Model – criminalising sex workers’ clients – in Northern Ireland.

After the DUP-sponsored bill was voted in, Laura said that Stormont had “sent out a clear message to the sex work community that they don’t care about us, one of society’s most marginalised and stigmatised groups.”

“With this case, I’m sending a message right back,” she said.

Laura took up the fight, winning the right to take the challenge to Northern Ireland's High Court. Laura claimed that provisions of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act contravened her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including rights to privacy, health and protection from degrading treatment.

The date for Laura’s first hearing was imminent and she had planned to take the case onward, to the European court of human rights.

“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe,” Laura told the Guardian. “If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries.”

Laura was passionate that sex workers should be able to work in safety and her fearless pursuit of this goal brought her into conflict with the establishment in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Laura endured shocking levels of harassment, scrutiny and public humiliation from politicians, pro-criminalisation feminists and religious fundamentalists.

Laura kept going despite the backlash, her good humour and dedication allowing her to rise above the hate. “I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet,” she said. “I am strong enough to do so.”

Laura’s energy and bravery were inspirational and the sex work community will always remember her with love and gratitude.

Rest in power, Laura Lee. Thank you for everything.

 

 


 

 

 

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers: join us on DECEMBER 18th OUTSIDE THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT!

On December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers (#IDEVASW), thousands of sex workers and sex worker-led organisations around the world will gather to commemorate the sex workers who have lost their lives. Last year, the list included more than 150 sex workers murdered between January 1 and December 1, 2016.

IDEVASW began in 2003 to remember the sex workers who were murdered by Seattle’s Green River Killer in the US. This year, the Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM) and the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) will create a memorial outside the Houses of Parliament on December 18th. We will be calling on MPs to join us and hear our demand for an end to the criminalisation, stigma and poverty which make us vulnerable to all kinds of violence and exploitation.

Monday December 18th: during this public event - from 12-2pm - we will be building a memorial in New Palace Yard, outside the Houses of Parliament with a roll call of those killed since 2016.

December 18th marks the closing date for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry into “pop up brothels”. Despite calls for decriminalisation from sex workers around the globe, the APPG is currently proposing that the UK increases criminalisation of the industry, putting workers at an even greater risk. Criminalising us, our workplaces, our clients, our friends, or anyone we work with or rely on for support, makes us less safe. We can’t report violence to the police for fear of arrest. Street based sex workers, trans women, migrants and sex workers of colour face added risk of violence. 

ALL ARE WELCOME ON DECEMBER 18th IN NEW PALACE YARD. FEEL FREE TO WEAR MASKS, BRING SIGNS, BANNERS, CANDLES AND NAMES OR MESSAGES FOR THE MEMORIAL.

PLEASE CONTACT YOUR MP and invite them to this event. Don’t let them ignore the voices of sex workers! You can use our letter template (it'll take you 60 seconds!)