This week Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new initiative to address police misconduct and abuse. Days before this announcement, sex workers, people in the sex trades and advocates submitted a report to the United Nations (UN) on human rights violations committed in the U.S. against sex workers, people in the sex trades, and those profiled as such. The abuses documented in the report make clear that no effort to reform policing in the U.S. can be effective without addressing mistreatment by law enforcement of these highly marginalized communities.
In the report to the UN Human Rights Council, Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP), Desiree Alliance and Sex Worker Outreach Project-NYC (SWOP-NYC) documents extensive violations of the right to equal protection before the law, the right to be free of cruel and inhuman punishment, and the right to health. Across the country, anti-prostitution laws and policies, coupled with discriminatory practices, create an environment in which police profiling and mistreatment of communities of color, transgender people, young people and immigrants occurs with impunity. In many U.S. jurisdictions, arrestees face harsh sentencing laws and receive inadequate legal defense. Due process violations are also rampant. Laws that criminalize a person’s HIV status—found to be a cruel and unusual punishment by the UN—are applied to sex workers across the country, while health care and other social service providers routinely mistreat people who have traded sex for money. Policy and funding shifts have undermined the work of important harm reduction and human rights groups working with people involved in sex trade, including forcing some critical organizations to close.
Citing examples from Baltimore to Phoenix, from New Orleans to Chicago, the report draws on the most recent research and media reports on human rights abuses against people in sex trades as well as interviews with sex workers and advocates. The report’s list of recommendations starts by calling on the U.S. government to make good on a commitment it made in 2011 to the UN to address discrimination and violence against sex workers.
As the country grapples with abuses by law enforcement in the aftermath of the high profile events in Ferguson, Missouri, it would be a mistake to leave certain communities out of the discussion on policing and discrimination. The recommendations from the report give Attorney General Holder and the Justice Department plenty of ideas to work on as they move forward with addressing the problems with law enforcement in the U.S.
BPPP, Desiree Alliance and SWOP-NYC submitted the report to the UN as part of the Universal Review Period (UPR), a periodic process by which the UN Human Rights Council examines the human rights record for UN member states. Other countries will make their recommendations to the U.S. about ways to improve human rights during the UPR session in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2015.
Groups representing sex workers and people in sex trades have recently submitted reports to the UN regarding the U.S. obligations under international treaties such as the International Covenant to Eliminate Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UPR report was endorsed by Power Inside (Baltimore), BreakOUT! (New Orleans), Casa Ruby (D.C.), Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (Atlanta), Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) USA and chapters in Phoenix, Tucson, Seattle, and Tampa Bay, Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, Monica Jones/Stand with Monica Campaign (Phoenix), Red Umbrella Project (NYC), and St. James Infirmary (San Francisco).