PHOENIX – Local sex workers and supporters of the sex industry plan to protest a prostitution diversion initiative outside a Phoenix church on Thursday.
The PProject ROSE prostitution Diversion Initiative, which acts as an alternative to criminal charges for arrested sex industry workers, was met with opposition by a group of sex workers and allies that refer to themselves as the Phoenix Sex Worker Organizing Project (SWOP).
As a part of the initiative, Phoenix police and students from the ASU School of Social Work team up twice a year to arrest local sex workers and have them choose between a six month diversion program or criminal charges.
According to a report from SWOP, Project ROSE and other diversion programs that require sex workers to attend educational and support groups “ignore the fact that many people who work in the sex industry are not victims in need of rescue, but consenting adults who should not be arrested, coerced into diversion, or incarcerated for working.”
The Project Phoenix website says that prostitution is many women’s means to survive, and if provided new opportunities, the majority of sex workers would gladly leave the industry.
Operation Street Light president Lea Benson feels the reasoning behind the protest doesn’t hold true for most women involved.
“We help young women beginning at age 13 who get involved in sex work. What these girls don’t realize is that they are victims. I don’t understand why anyone would choose to do this,” Benson said.
Proposers of Project Phoenix believe that this is possible by raising awareness of prostitution and providing support for women involved in prostitution.
ABC15 crews will cover the protest at 4 p.m. outside the Bethany Bible Church, the site of Project ROSE.