Monica Jones, a trans woman, ASU student and sex work activist, was found guilty Friday on prostitution-related charges.
Jones, 29, was accosted on the street while walking in her Phoenix neighborhood during a sting operation, and charged with ‘manifestation of intent to prostitute’ the night after she spoke at a May 2013 rally denouncing Project ROSE.
Phoenix police deny that they had targeted Jones, and yesterday a judge sided with the police.
Project ROSE is a program created with 15 partner organizations including the Phoenix Police Department with the goal of avoiding filing charges against adults engaged in prostitution, providing an opportunity for medical and social services and assistance in helping them exit the life of prostitution if they choose.
In practice, the program and its profiled prostitution sweeps target trans, SGL and low income women far too often and has a 30% success rate, the same rate as a woman who goes before a judge and hasn’t gone through the Catholic Charities-supported program.
Essentially, Project ROSE arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online. They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion program to those who qualified.
In the Bethany Bible Church, those arrested were not allowed to speak to lawyers. Despite the handcuffs, they were not officially “arrested” at all.
Walking While Black and Trans
In Arizona and across the country, trans women like Ms. Jones are routinely profiled and swept up in the criminal justice system on prostitution-related charges, due to a phenomenon many call “Walking While Trans”—a widely held belief by law enforcement and others that all transgender women are criminals.
A Change.org petition was created urging the Phoenix city prosecutor to drop the charges against her, and Friday morning, a crowd of more than 50 supporters gathered outside Phoenix Municipal Court in support of Jones.
“When trans rights are under attack, what do you do? Stand up, fight back!” the crowd chanted.
“Manifestation of an intent to prostitute,” is a vague and discriminatory law that criminalizes activities like waving at cars, talking to passersbys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer.
“I want Arizona and America to reevaluate those laws,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t change nothing I did that night. The only thing that needs to be changed is the justice system here.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona’s legal director argued the manifestation charge is unconstitutional, violating the rights to free speech and due process. Dan Pochoda of the ACLU explained in his arguments, “The statute eviscerates first amendment rights.”
The judge said he couldn’t dismiss the charge on those grounds, and after testimony from an undercover police officer and from Jones, found her guilty.
Jones’ trial is also being monitored by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders as an example of discriminatory policing and retaliation on activists organizing for human rights.
She is appealing the ruling because she faces time in the men’s jails, and Maricopa County has a less than stellar human rights record in their penal system.
Ms. Jones stated, “I am saddened by the injustice that took place at my trial this morning, but we are not giving up the fight. It’s time that we end the stigma and the criminalization of sex work, the profiling of trans women of color, and the racist policing system that harms so many of us.”