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The inaugural Trust Women Conference was held in London recently, supported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune. I was invited to speak on a panel entitled ‘how to put the anti-trafficking business out of business‘ with people who address the issue of sex trafficking including infamous abolitionist, Ruchira Gupta.

'how to put the trafficking business out of business'

‘how to put the trafficking business out of business’

In the days leading up to the  conference, Gupta had issued a series of media offensives upon sex workers which began last weekend with an attack on peer educators in the Indian press. Liz Ford, who is the Deputy Editor of The Guardian’s Global Development section and an apparent abolitionist sympathiser, appeared at the conference only to provide an outlet for Ms Gupta’s unfounded characterisations of women engaged in sex work. Ford falsely claimed in The Guardian that Ruchira Gupta is an ‘activist for sex workers‘. I presume this was a device to undermine any authority derived from my self-disclosure as a sex worker, on the panel discussion that followed these defamatory stories.

Ford published two articles based upon the same interview with Gupta, which  made horrifying and illusory allegations about sex worker activists; in particular those who attended the Sex Worker Freedom Festival in Kolkata earlier this year.  She called attendees “pimps and traffickers” . Gupta spoke using the usual alarmist and disempowering rhetoric that abolitionists tend to employ, invoking terms such as “brutalised”; “raped”; “invaded”; “used-up at 30″ to describe sex work. Predictably, she suggested the need for even more punitive measures against people associated with the sex industry and more funding to combat the problem from “the grassroots”.  It’s illuminating to see what two Harvard undergraduate donors thought about Ms Gupta’s ‘grassroots intitiatives‘ in 2010 after visiting one of her sites.

However

The sensible shoe award for most stigmatising headline of 2012 goes to…..

Guardian journalist Liz Ford  Liz Ford of The Guardian! 

 “Life of a sex worker: disease, abortion,

  debt bondage and death – video.”

One wonders how Ford would react to publicly being labelled a ‘pimp’ or a ‘trafficker’ or whether the woman has any sense of decency at all. What an absolute, unmitigated nerve!

Still, the most shocking claim came to be when Gupta uttered the words, “the average age of a prostitute in India is between 9 and 13“. This alarming statistic was framed in the context of globalisation and the egregious effects of neoliberalisation policies which she claimed was driving demand for prostitutes that are younger and younger.  I mused about where she might have pulled that figure, other than out of thin air. I promptly concluded that she was conflating two figures that abolitionists throw around a lot: the oft-quoted and oft-debunked figure that the ‘average age of entry into prostitution is 13‘ and the research Melissa Farley did in Aotearoa (New Zealand) where she claimed that the ‘average age of entry into prostitution for Maori women was 9.’  In this instance however, Gupta was not even claiming an ‘average age of entry’.  No Siree. This was the average age of a prostitute in India!

Cover of conference booklet on trafficking and prostitution.

Cover of conference booklet on trafficking and prostitution.

What was most striking about the psychological warfare waged upon me by these two somewhat influential women, was how readily prepared they were to employ violent tactics in order to discredit and isolate me from the conference proper. They did this by colluding to proliferate untruths about sex workers; by characterising sex workers involved in the HIV response as ‘pimps and traffickers’ and the rest as people who are “deeply damaged”. Their conduct was coercive inasmuch as they have enough power within patriarchal catacombs such as the mainstream press, to be able to use it in a cynical way to issue their message. Not only did they use the press as a vehicle to spread their ideology, but it was also a systematic attempt to discredit me, as an activist in APNSW, in the mind of anyone who might have viewed those stories prior to hearing what I had to say to the conference.

The logic seems to work as follows: if you have ever worked in the sex industry and you are unwilling to announce that the experience utterly destroyed your life and robbed you of a sense of self,  you are suffering from some kind of disorder.  Let’s call it ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. You have become so accustomed to the ‘brutalization’ of having accepted money for sex, that you consider brutalization to be normal.  Spectators who haven’t suffered ‘death by Powerpoint’ by this stage, must remain alert and remember that these are not the voices of sex workers you are hearing. They are storytellers in the business of telling fictional stories.   Coincidentally it is men and women like Ms Gupta who are in possession of the solutions for the poor  funding stream that is ‘women & girls’ who are unfortunate enough to fall within their purview and be categorised as “trafficked”. And there are a lot of men in the ‘slavery expert’ business. Knights in shining armour abound.

Another noteworthy aspect of the Guardian video is when Gupta iterates that the point of the Trust Women Conference was to focus on the “demand” side of prostitution as a way to fight trafficking.  Here, she and Liz Ford are informing Guardian readers about the primary focus of the conference even prior to the scheduled panel discussion on what the most effective interventions to fight human trafficking might possibly be. The International Herald Tribune did not cover the “women for sale” day in such a pre-determined light and they organised the conference.

The kind of maltreatment I received from Ford and Gupta used to be solely the provenance of the ‘old boys club’.  This is a slightly more sophisticated incarnation of that; where the abuse is being perpetrated by women against one woman (but who is the only representative of millions of sex working women allowed in)…  And it is being done in the name of Feminism. The most ironic aspect of their strategic alliance is that The Guardian Global Development section is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation whose programmes for sex workers in India are the subject of constant malicious attacks by Ms Gupta and her organisation Apne Aap.  She also calls them pimps and traffickers. How fortuitous for Ms Ford that she can heave her ideological cake and eat it too. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

On the panel, Mexican journalist and winner of the Trust Women Award, Lydia Cacho spoke about ‘ending demand’ for  prostitution and the success of the program she runs in Cancun, sensitising boys between 14-18 to not become clients.   The Body Shop guy basically covered for his employer L’oreal, the second largest chemical company in the world which has been accused of greenwashing  and has a demonstrably atrocious history of animal rights abuses.  He called for ‘human trafficking-free’ labeling that guaranteed trafficked-free products.  The Not for Sale guy talked about social marketing initiatives in what appears to be an ethical (Christian?) capitalist scheme that produces soups and juices to sell to sex workers and “vulnerable women”. He stated that he had half a million dollars in pledges for this venture and a call for matched funding of that figure became one of the inputs from our session.  I stressed the need for empirical data on human trafficking and the importance of a consistent definition of terms used in relation to trafficking and the need to gain some clarity before we talk about ‘best practice’ interventions on human trafficking.

Lawyer Karen Silverman, the only panelist with whom I vaguely connected on a human level, iterated the importance of broadening the discussion on migration rights, citizenship rights and labour rights. Although she was approaching the issue from a different perspective, it was refreshing to be in the company of someone who wasn’t just focused on getting a piece of the Anti-trafficking Pie. She also highlighted the fact that many trafficked women are held in custody for long periods of time and that we need to devise strategies to address this problem.

partner NGOs: Equality Now; IJM; Polaris Project; Not for Sale.

partner NGOs: Equality Now; IJM; Polaris Project; Not for Sale.

I was the final speaker on the panel and began by explaining that the advent of the anti-trafficking industry has resulted in an increase in violence against sex workers.  I stated that the impact of criminalisation had driven sex workers underground, making them prone to violence, increased health risks and coercive treatment from others.  I went into some detail about the regularity of human rights abuses that are occurring in arbitrary detention settings in Cambodia, such as the Somaly Mam Foundation and her organisation AFESIP as reported to sex worker organisations in Cambodia. I stated that these abuses were catalogued in a Human Rights Watch Report from 2010.  I warned people consuming human trafficking narratives to be wary of statistics that are quoted and to question the quality of anecdotal information received.  I went on to speak about the recent revelation in the Cambodian press that a high profile story being regurgitated in the mass media had been proven to be untrue.  Long Pross is a young Cambodian woman who is being touted by Somaly Mam’s Voices for Change  program as a victim with an unimaginably horrendous history of being trafficked as a child and having her eye gouged out by the brothel owner. Her story has been exposed as a complete fabrication by an investigative journalist who interviewed a string of people involved, including Long Pross’ parents; the surgeon who removed her eye and the tumor she developed at age 7 ;and the Cambodian anti-trafficking Police whose records revealed that no complaint had ever been filed in relation to this woman being trafficked as a child.

I stated that Long Pross had appeared with celebrities such as Meg Ryan and Susan Sarandon on reality tours they conducted in Cambodia promoting the Somaly Mam Foundation. I stated she had appeared with Hillary Clinton and on Oprah as the “Face of Slavery” and that her testimonial had been profiled on Half the Sky.

This picture of Hillary Clinton hugging Long Pross was being displayed on the overhead when I went on to add that this story had been covered by many popular media sources including Oprah and PBS who had recently screened her ‘testimonial’ on Half the Sky.

This picture of Hillary Clinton hugging Long Pross was being displayed on the overhead when my session was cut short.


 At this point the moderator Tim Large politely interjected and apologetically informed me that we were running short of time and that we would now have to turn to Q&A and develop our inputs for the Conference Call to Action. I may have broken some unwritten protocol by mentioning Half the Sky from the panel, especially as Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl Wudunn are on the advisory board for Trust Women,and also because he had spoken on the video that introduced our session.   The overarching point I was trying to make was that it is crucial for journalists to confirm every piece of information they receive before sending it to print.   I wanted to point out how easily such fabricated narratives can proliferate into the mainstream consciousness if reporters do not exercise caution.

The point at which truth-in-reporting intersects with the profit motive was illustrated quite plainly with the swift end to my presentation.  I was trying to convey the importance of the human rights aspect and emphasise that responses to trafficking must be based in truth.  There were a couple of exceptional moments during the conference when empassioned women spoke about their experiences, but I did not feel I had witnessed a lot of truth-telling in these two days. I did not appreciate the way many of the issues were framed, such as the Arab Spring with more than a hint of anti-Islamism or the focus on the atrocious behaviour of people from the Global South – Female Genital Mutilation, Forced Marriage, When culture clashes with Law.  And of course, Women for Sale. There was little mention of the role Colonisation or Western Imperialism play in the global profile.

During the reading of the Conference Declaration, I was following the official twitter feed on the big screen and saw quite a few positive tweets about my presentation including a two from the Trust Women rapporteur. They disappeared within an hour. Thankfully we have activists in the movement who are vigilant and one diligent observer from $carlet Timor managed to save a few .

 Afterwards, a high-ranking journalist approached me and expressed shock at my allegations of impropriety in relation to Half the Sky. I told her there were journalists in Cambodia working to expose the violence of the anti-trafficking industry because it has become a significant problem. She asked me if I knew that Mr Kristof was a Pulitzer prize winning journalist to which I nodded and she added that the Trust Women conference had been inspired by the stories contained in Half the Sky.  She asked me had I read it.  I said ‘no’. She promised to send me a copy. I told her I would forward the requisite articles that formed the basis of my allegations about the fabricated victim-narrative.

trust-women

When Ruchira Gupta says that the traffickers are becoming wise and “outsmarting us”, I take that as acknowledgement that she recognises there is something authentic about the sex worker movement- a truth.  I think she recognises that we are building something special, having discovered our power as autonomous individuals and as part of the vibrant tapestry of resistance that forms our global solidarity movement. Responses to trafficking must be based in truth, not conflations or exaggerations or imaginings or outright lies. The UN is beginning to recognise the magnitude of the dilemma, as are many journalists and hopefully this awareness will expand into a larger context.

 It was strange to sit on a panel with someone for whom your very existence is a threat. In asserting that the sex worker movement is a self-determination movement, I am informing the likes of Gupta and her abolitionist ilk, that perhaps they are not relevant to our context. There is no place for them in our lives or as part of our stories. If sex workers can do it for themselves, those white saviours and their grateful cohorts don’t have an industry to build around us. And that’s probably the best outcome for all- especially those who have been trafficked.

It is sex workers who are subverting the patriarchy, not the gun-ho protectionists who imagine freedom to go only as far as being “equal” to men. Ours is the feminist project. Ours is a huge global movement that is led by women. And as long as sex workers are at the table engaging in the discourse, we will continue to provide inputs that cannot be ignored.

Sex workers are not the problem. We are part of the solution.

Tracey Tully, APNSW Staff.

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   Launch of APNSW+ and NSWP+

    on Tuesday 24th July 2012

    at Sex Worker Freedom Festival

    in Kolkata, India.

 

We are a group of HIV+ Sex Workers and people committed to treatment access for sex workers living with HIV. We have decided that we need a special platform to fight for the rights of HIV+ sex workers and to bring the sex worker’s issues and the energy and glamour of the Sex workers movement to the treatment activist movement!

Our new platforms ‘Asia and Pacific Network of Positive Sex Workers’ (APNSW+) and ‘Global Network of Positive Sex Workers’ (NSWP+) make these demands:

  • HIV+ Sex workers demand the right to look fabulous- to do this we need better and affordable HIV drugs now
  • WE DEMAND AS POSITIVE PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO WORK AS SEX WORKERS!!!
  • We demand the right to work in all sectors, including in the sex industry
  • We demand that the drug companies from the West stop trying to kill us through their attacks on developing countries right to manufacture, export and import generic ARVs
  • As HIV+ sex workers we face MULTIPLE stigma and discrimination despite 25 years of treatment activism there is an extra layer of stigma if we have HIV and do sex work. As positive sex workers, we demand that this stigma is fought and our specific needs are met
  • We demand not to be last in line for treatment or refused treatment because we are sex workers
  • Treatment needs to be matched to the patient not the patient matched to the treatment
  • Post Exposure Prophylaxis is not available to most people around the world – we need access and availability of PEP, especially for sex workers

AS HIV+ SEX WORKERS, WE DEMAND THE RIGHT TO LOOK FABULOUS!!!


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The most exciting thing about the Sex Worker Freedom Festival is that happened at all. How thrilling it was to have sex workers from over 41 countries, and all over India to come to the parallel IAC conference we held in Kolkata to discuss issues that are important to sex workers everywhere. The week-long conference was organised by NSWP, APNSW & DMSC and was attended by over 550 sex workers.

The festival focussed on the seven freedoms that we are all entitled to:

  • Freedom of movement and to migrate;
  • Freedom to access quality health services;
  • Freedom to work and choose occupation;
  • Freedom to associate and unionise;
  • Freedom to be protected by the law;
  • Freedom from abuse and violence; and
  • Freedom from stigma and discrimination.

We held workshops and heard news and views and analysis from sex workers in attendance from all around the world. APNSW held Information and Communications Technology (ICT) workshops that explored the various platforms of online communication, with a particular focus on social networking. In partnership with the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), APNSW held workshops for HIV+ sex workers, who got to explore the realms of a potential HIV+ revolution! We held our red umbrella march to coincide with the march in Washington, the ‘Sex Workers can end AIDS Rally’, and it was enthusiastically attended by locals and visitors alike. There was a red carpet night with performances, booze, awards in recognition for significant achievements in sex worker activism. The SWFF saw the launch of APNSW+ & NSWP+, an advocacy platform that aims to make the voices of HIV+ sex workers heard loud and clear!

We feel privileged to have been welcomed so warmly by our local partners, the sex workers of DMSC and treated like family by all of our Indian partners, especially the crews at VAMP and Ashodaya.

NSWP have just issued the inaugural issue of Sex Worker Digest which provides a detailed summary of the topics covered in the official programme and maps out the media coverage that the festival attracted.

 It is ironical that the AIDS conference’s slogan is “Turning the Tide Together” when two of the key populations most affected by HIV, sex workers and those with a history of drug use, are denied entry to the US and cannot therefore be present – we are an essential part of the solution.”

Ruth Morgan Thomas, Global Co-ordinator NSWP.

Obama, when he became the president, he said “I am the president of everyone” — that should include gay people and sex workers. He said ‘Yes We Can’ for change! But there’s no change yet, so he has failed the whole world of discriminating against sex workers and not removing that prostitution pledge.”

John Mathenge, Co-ordinator, Kenyan Sex Worker’s Alliance (KESWA), Kenya.

HIV is our garbo (pride). If it had not come we would not be here. We would have just been lying in the dark getting beaten up. Today we are organised.”

Swapna Gayen  Program Director, DMSC, India.

SW digest Issue 01 Oct 2012

 

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It’s 4 years ago this week that Carol Jenkins, one of the strongest supporters of sex workers rights and HIV programs in this region died. Carol was a close friend to many in the APNSW extended family. Her research skills are sorely missed, but more than this we miss the way her house in Bangkok was a place that brought so many different people together- from members of community organizations up to the heads of major international aid agencies. Now we only get to see most of those people in formal meetings, which is a shame. The debates and discussions over Carol’s dinner table led to some amazing collaborations and many honest discussions. The loss of this informal space, which we called “Salon Jenkins” where we met people as equals has, we believe been a huge loss to the HIV response in this region. We miss you Mildred!

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At its 25th Board Meeting in Ghana, 20-22 November, the Global Fund Board decided to cancel Round 11, its funding opportunity for countries to put forward ambitious proposals for scale-up of HIV/AIDS, TB and/or malaria programs, National Strategies and health systems strengthening. The reason for this is lack of money and unwillingness by the donors to invest more in AIDS, TB and malaria through the Global Fund. The immediate consequence is that countries will only be able to apply for funding for continuation of essential prevention, treatment and/or care programs currently financed by the Global Fund that will otherwise face disruption between January 2012 and 31 March 2014. Funding for new programs and scale-up would only come available again as of 2014. This happens at a time when the Global Fund Board also approved a new Strategy 2012-2016 with ambitious targets – that could fundamentally change the course of the epidemics.

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Last month APNSW members decided to paint a mural to represent the problems sex workers have with GFATM programmes but also to give ideas for how they can be fixed so that GFATM money is used responsibly and ethically on programmes addressing sex work and HIV.

Left side of the banner is the way programmes run now.
The sex worker (organisation) is a puppet. It shows her collecting all the paper work for GF programmes as her main activity. she is also treated as a target and carries an STI Test book, which records the results of the compulsory STI and HIV tests funded by the Global Fund.

Further to the left, is the Evil Elf, which represents the INGOs and UN organizations who are involved in all of this programming but just end up stealing sex workers power and (mis)appropriating the money for sex worker HIV Programmes

Behind the Elf is a road delivering GF money, but bags of it are falling off to all the wrong places.
There is an intersection with a sign post, but the remaining money goes to token pecs and compulsory testing and no money gets to the projects run by sex workers.

On right hand side is how things can be if sex workers are allowed to run our own programmes rather than being passive recipients and targets.

If GF will,allow us to,cut the puppet strings then the puppet turns into a multi armed angel,winged goddess who can deliver Value For Money- something we as sex workers know about and deliver to our clients daily!

So if,community is empowered and directly funded we can deliver for the people.
Small amounts of money used to nurture the grass roots lead,to huge outcomes growing.
If we work on principles based on the right to health then we can work,together instead of having to fight with all,the agencies and organizations who should be working with us.


In about 10 different languages a few key messages are written by sex workers from those countries.

Sex work is work
My body is mine, not the governments
My body is my business
No compulsory testing
Sex workers have human rights.

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Korean Sex Workers are standing up for their RIGHTS!!!

There are approximately 1,000 sex workers gathering from several location of Korea.

They are claiming “Sex work is work!!!

Abolish anti-prostitution law!!!

Decriminalise Sex Work!!!”

 

They are working in brothels. Korean government has forced to remove brothel areas since 2004 made new anti-prostitution law. The situation is getting worse that sex workers are threaten by costumers according to the law and police not only can’t help sex workers in dangerous situation but even they often use violence sex workers.

Click below for PDF version

Korean Sex Workers Protesting in Seoul on 22 Sept. 2011

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