DC Hearing on Prostitution Free Zones

24 Jan

For everyone who missed this morning’s live twitter extravaganza from the hearing over “Prostitution Free Zones” in Washington DC, here is some of the commentary that you missed.

We think that it’s important to watch how these debates play out in other cities, as these ideas are often contagious. We saw it with End Demand campaigns, and PFZ is set in a long tradition of “drug free zones” and the like that historically either simply displace the problem being addressed, increase racial and gender profiling, and don’t actually address any underlying issues. But they also sound enticing to the public, and enjoy enormous popularity. Sadly, this could become a trend that sex workers rights organizations have to face across the country.

More info:

Article explaining a bit about the DC situation: http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/12/01/13/dc_cracks_down_on_prostitution

Short documentary about how “Prostitution Free” zones affected sex workers and trans communities from 3 years ago http://vimeo.com/4652102

Excerpts from the DC Trans Coalition (@theDCTC)’s testimony against Prostitution Free Zones http://dctranscoalition.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/our-testimony-in-opposition-to-permanent-prostitution-free-zones/

The “Move Along” report from the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse DC, which shows some of the direct impacts of the enforcement of DC’s commercial sex policies (both new and longstanding) on people involved, or perceived to be involved, in the sex trade http://dctranscoalition.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/movealongreport.pdf

Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance petition against PFZ http://www.glaaforum.org/glaa_forum/2012/01/please-sign-petition-opposing-prostitution-free-zones.html

DCist Report from December: http://dcist.com/2011/11/dc_now_more_prostitution_free.php

Rheality Check from January 2010 about how bad these policies are: http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2010/01/03/washington-dc%E2%80%99s-punitive-sex-work-laws-endanger-women%E2%80%99s-health-safety

Here are the tweets from a couple different people who were live-tweeting the hearing today. The only editing I’ve done is to put them in more of a paragraph format, clean a couple typos, and did not include some of their tweets that were direct responses to other people (or retweets of each other). I also removed the hashtag #PFZ because I figured if you’re reading this, you know what they’re talking about already. While these are interesting, and helpful to read, I wanted to keep this recap as straightforward as possible. I definitely recommend spending some time sifting through the links and ongoing conversations though!

Also – this will undoubtedly be updated as this debate rages on. So keep your eyes out. More to come!

*Important note. You’ll see a lot of tweets directed @CMYMA. That’s the twitter handle for Yvette Alexander, the Council Member for Ward 7 who introduced the bill to make “Prostitution Free” zones stronger

Amy Loudermilk (@amyloudermilk)

Mendo opens hearing, acknowledges wanting to hear testimony about consitutionality of the bill. CM Alexander – doesn’t appreciate “prostitutes” doing their business around kids. I don’t know many sex workers who work during the time when kids should be out at a playground, but hey, what do I know?! FYI – I will use quotes when the word prostitute is used b/c I do not use it. Alexander – states she knows this will impact trans community & many trans sex workers are victims themselves.

So a Mayor of another city can’t testify sitting next to other community members? #notademocracy. Mayor of Mt. Pleasant, MD calls prostitution “offensive” “perverted”, ect. Um, so this is discrimination and ignoring the constitution. Oh, so the Mayor’s law does not establish permanent zones. HUGE FREAKIN’ DIFFERENCE.

First up, Rick Rosendall from @glaadc explaining why the bill is discriminatory and unconstitutional. Rick cites tweets from @JTinDC & @CMYMA in testimony. Love it! Next up, Cyndee Clay, ED of HIPS explaining multitude of injustices facing sex workers. States arrests do not discourage “prostitution.” If you remove root causes of why ppl are forced to be sex workers, you eradicate the problem altogether. Why not try doing that? Invest public $$ into removing root causes of “prostitution” – better investment of DC resources – HIPS.

ED of Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance testifying against bill. Speaks about US commitments to United Nations re: marginalized populations. Question: have Drug Free Zones eliminated the drug problem in the US? Policy Advocate at Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance – law student at UDC giving fantastic testimony about legal questionability of bill. HIPS – if you establish a PFZ, sex workers just move to another street. Bill doesn’t speak to heart of issue or actually help anything. Sex workers are DC residents too. PFZ bill pitting groups against each other.

Alexander – “what is a sex worker? “Is that a prostitute?” Oh lord. It’s on. We call them “sex workers” because they are using sex as a means to support themselves – HIPS. Acknowledges why work occurs. Let’s remember, @CMYMA didn’t think gays should be granted right to marry in DC. Yes, HIPS gets DC $ because someone in DC gov understands that sex workers need services too.

Citizens Against Prostitution testifying now. Org is from MD. Where are the DC residents who this bill claims to respond to the concerns of? Laura Hankins from Public Defender Service up next – can’t wait! Sex workers are often CHILDREN too! Kicked out of homes after coming out as LGB or T! First DC resident who supports the #PFZ is no testifying.

Special Counsel to the DC Public Defender Service: “This bill is unconstitutional.” PDS ripping apart bill word by word – many of which are undefined. Why should the Council support PFZ when they didn’t support gang injunctions? It’s the same civil rights issues at play. Second Ward 7 resident now testifying in support of #PFZ. Mendo – what does this bill add? Chief can already declare temporary #PFZ and renew that. Again, I say drug free zones doesn’t fix the drug problem, gang injunctions don’t eradicate gangs, why enact PFZ?

Temp Zones did not work CM Alexander! The problem still exists, just in a diff location. So will ALL of DC be declared a PFZ? Aren’t we now calling ppl returning citizens instead of exoffenders? Then shouldn’t we believe a “prostitute” in a PFZ may be simply walking? ACLU: PFZ bill similar to other laws such as loitering free zones which have been declared unconstitutional by courts. Why is there not a requirement that in order to make laws you must actually understand how our legal system (including constitution) works?

Yay, Alison Gill from @theDCTC now up! Knocking it outta the park! “Our laws are not keeping us safe.” What will keep us safe? Services to prevent violence in the first place. You do not have a constitutional right to look out your window and not see crime.

Bring on the executive witnesses! Oh dear, you should never testify about something that you really don’t understand. No one who is a Ward 7 resident commits crime. Really?!?!?!? Wow. Might have to turn this hearing off. Getting too pissed at Alexander’s comments. Attorney General’s Office to Alexander: this shit is unconstitutional.

Wait, is the police department saying that you need to address underlying issues (mental health issues, ect) to solve crime problem? YES! “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem of prostitution” – MPD. Speak truth to power! Newsham is sounding a little like the commander in #TheWire who realized drug war pointless and had zones legalizing drugs.

David Schultz @davidbschultz 

I’m at #JAWB aka DC city hall today for Council hearing on prostitution amendment. Check @wamu885news for the backstory. @statehoodfordc is here testifying against @CYMA amendment strengthening city’s anti-prostitution laws. Eugene Grant, mayor of Mt. Pleasant, MD. testifies. PG county just implemented its own anti-pros law. Rick Rosendall of @galldc just testified against amendment. Cited @wamu885news story in testimony. @CMYMA questions use of term “sex worker.” Says it implies prostitution is a legal job. @CMYMA questions whether HIPS receives any funding from DC. Exec dir Cyndee Clay says yes but has been cut in last year. DC public defender service here testifying against bill. Homeowners from both sides of DC line testifying in favor. Have many anecdotes of encountering prostitutes in neighborhoods.

Ward 7 res on murder of trans person in front of home “I don’t take issue w his orientation. I take issue w what brought him there.” RT @JTinDC “Argh. Gender identity isn’t sexual orientation. And the victim was a young woman” RT @dj_bent “apparently he doesn’t take issue with the person being MURDERED

Mendelson questions whether police have resources to maintain a permanent PFZ. @CMYMA says shift in prostitution (as outlined in @wamu885news story) is evidence PFZ worked. “Unfortunately we were the recipients” Interesting exchange b/w @CMYMA and pub defender.

@statehoodfordc says the PFZ law pushes prostitution into a “constitution-free zone.” DC assoc of criminal defense lawyers testifying against the PFZ amendment. @CMYMA: “if the District of Columbia was a PFZ and Maryland was a PFZ then they would have to go to VA. I guess.” @CMYMA seems to want to make the entire district a PFZ.

@theDCTC testifies against the PFZ bill. Says PFZs lead to discrimination and profiling against trans ppl. @CMYMA says @theDCTC testimony that prostitutes are coming to a less-safe W7 is a “direct insult” to her ward. “They’re not coming to a less safe area, they’re making the area less safe.” RT @dj_bent @CYAMA the area is less safe. people are getting murdered and raped and robbed out there, and you don’t seem to care.

Office of DC atty general says it has “substantial concerns” about constitutionality of PFZ. Peter Newsham, asst @DCPoliceDept chief, disputes findings of @wamu885news story. @DCPoliceDept declined to comment for story. Asst. police chief Newsham: “I’m not necessarily convinced that arrests are stemming the tide here.”

dj bent (@dj_bent)

CM Mendelsom asks have PFZ been effective? This is a good question – who is measuring this? Move Along report is some good documentation. @CMYMA doesn’t know what “sex worker” is – it’s a less-stigmatizing term for people engaging in exchange of sexual services.” Cyndee Clay at HIPS is right – “sex worker” highlights that people do it as a way to make a living, not merely a criminal. Police assume that transgender people are engaging in sex work, so gives them license to arrest them in PFZ.

What are the other crimes you are referring to @CMYMA? Maybe it’s time to think different about DC’s approach to crime? Prostitution free zones have been used in other wards, @CMYMA — have they been effective? This is about ONE CITY, not just ward 7. If gunshots are an issue along eastern ave, why not address that? That’s not about sex work, it’s about guns. Witness for “citizens against prostitution” acknowledges taht sex workers are targeted for robberies. so that crime is ok? “Children are exposed to lewd and unlawful acts” — that’s how some people regard gays and lesbians too. People talk about two things a) condoms which is a trash issue and b) gunshots, stabbings, which is about violent crime, not sex work.

There have been prostitution free zones in ward 7 plenty of times, yet clearly they don’t work! or else we wouldn’t be here today! so a sex worker was murdered in your yard and you aren’t worried about the murder, you’re worried about the sex work? Mendelson on point — how will this proposed law make any difference? Why not just declare teh whole District a PFZ? oh right, b/c it wouldn’t be constitutional OR address the issues yall are talking about!

OK you want Eastern Ave off-limits, where next? That’s what happened in the first place. folks got pushed out of downtown. If a person is arrested on monday for prostitution, and then is out there again on friday, why do you think that is? @CMYMA if people keep getting arrested, and that is not helping, how is arresting them again in a PFZ going to help? Just because I was arrested before for prostitution doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to enter an area again.

Alright, @HRW going in on PFZ as overbroad and arbitrary. “the law invites discrimination by police” let’s talk about public health. aren’t we glad people are using condoms? maybe we need more trash cans? I understand @CMYMA wants to do something. Let’s figure out what can be done — this approach will not get you want you want. There has not been a single arrest under this law b/c cops and AGs understand that it’s unconstitutional! If arrests aren’t deterring people maybe ARRESTING people isn’t the solution!

I have to peace out. Bottom line: DC needs to have a comprehensive review of the issue of sex work & how we deal with it. I’m quite frustrated with @CMYMA’s approach to these issues, but I want to try to work constructively with her on them. I’m really hoping that today can be the beginning of a real conversation about these issues, not more knee-jerk responses. That hope is probably misplaced, but I know myself, @theDCTC etc will be following up with council members on this. With MPD and OAG opinions expressed during this PFZ hearing, maybe we can make some actual progress. “lock ’em up” is the wrong approach.

Audacia Ray (audaciaray)

Prostitution Free Zones don’t stop people trading sex, they criminalize and profile people as sex workers, especially trans women of color. @funkatron a law to further penalize what is already illegal. cuz if the law didn’t work at first, it needs MOAR LAWZ. makes sense right? “Quality of life” legislation like the PFZs boost visibility of lawmakers who are “doing something” about perceived problems. But what about the “quality of life” of people profiled as prostitutes, harassed by cops, arrested for walking while trans?

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