Monica Jones, an activist and student of social work at Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix, will be on trial March 14 for “manifesting prostitution.” It’s a charge made under a vague local statute that allows cops to arrest suspected sex workers for doing as little as repeatedly waving at cars, even if no money is exchanged for sex. Jones and other advocates say the law allows the police to profile and discriminately target poor people, queer people and people of color. Although she is risking missing her classes if she is found guilty and given jail time, Jones is determined to beat the charges in court.
“It’s not just me fighting to prove that I’m innocent, it’s me fighting against this outrageous law,” Jones told Truthout. “Who has more to lose? The state has more to lose than I do … because this case sets a precedent.”
Jones said that a white woman in the rich part of town does not have to worry about being stopped by the cops, but as an outspoken activist and a transwoman of color, she is a prime target for police surveillance and arrest. If cops decide they don’t like her, she said, they target her for the way she looks. Since her arrest last year, Jones has been singled out for police harassment and has been approached or detained three times near her home or walking around town. Sex worker advocates compare the “manifesting prostitution” statute to Arizona’s notorious “show me your papers law,” which critics say invites the police to profile and target Latinos and anyone else who looks or sounds like they may be from another country.
“This law does not apply across the board,” Jones said. “It applies to specific minorities and a specific area. If you look at this area, who’s in this area? Poor people and people of color.”
Protesting Project ROSE
Jones was arrested for “manifesting prostitution” in March 2013, shortly after speaking at a rally against Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited), a prostitution “rescue” program that is the result of a controversial collaboration between the School of Social Work at ASU and the Phoenix Police Department.
Operating two weekends out of the year since 2011, Project ROSE involves up to 125 police officers sweeping the streets and picking up people they suspect of “prostitution.”
Monica interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: