October 29, 2008

This Friday - 82ndCARES at PSU Feminisms Conference

This week, 82ndCARES Coalition will hold a workshop at Portland State University's Feminisms Conference. The conference is organised by the Women's Resource Center of PSU, and will take place this Friday, October 31st.

Our session is titled "Prostitutes Are Our Neighbours Too: The Troubling Neighbourhood Politics on the 82nd Avenue," and will be at 2:00-3:15pm in room 296 of Smith Memorial Center (1825 SW Broadway).

The conference is free and open to all. Please come see us! We are hoping to have unofficial get-together afterwards nearby.

Oh and also: the conference has many other interesting sessions (just not at the same time as ours--they suck, so you should come to our session), so you might want to take a look at the schedule.... The keynote speaker is Kathleen Saadat, a longtime local community organiser.

We hope to see you there!

October 4, 2008

"Reducing the Demand Side" Harms Women--Here's Why

Some Portlanders concerned about prostitution on our streets are pushing for the strategy of "reducing the demand side" of prostitution. It means that, instead of going after people engage in prostitution to make ends meet, criminal justice system would be instructed to pursue johns (clients) who purchase sexual services.

The appeal of this approach is obvious: many people understand that women who trade sex for money do so under dire economic and personal circumstances, and feel that it would be unfair to punish them for their predicament. On the other hand, few people feel any sympathy toward johns: in fact, some may find it deeply satisfying emotionally to have them punished severely.

However, we must seriously consider the full implication of such policy if we are truly concerned about the women who would have to compete for declining demand for their services. We believe, that while the approach to "reduce the demand side" is far preferable to arresting the women, it is nonetheless harmful to the safety and health of the women who work on our streets.

The first obvious consequence of suppressing the "demand side" is that women will have to compete for a smaller pool of johns, forcing them to do more for less money. The decline of the demand would give remaining johns greater bargaining power, because it becomes easy for them to "take the business elsewhere" (go find another worker willing to do more for less) if their demands are not completely met. For example, a woman who had always insisted on using a condom might be forced to engage in less safe practices simply to stay competitive.

Second, an increased pressure on johns displaces prostitution onto less populated or traveled areas, where they are less likely to be reported to the authorities or caught in a sting. These are also the areas where women are more likely to be assaulted, both because it would be less familiar to the women, and also because nobody would be around when they call for help.

And finally, the profile of a typical john would change as we make it riskier to buy sex, since not all potential johns respond to the increased risks equally. "Reducing the demand side" approach would drive out those men who are relatively sensitive to risks, while the reckless and/or impulsive types remain undeterred. These johns are precisely the ones likely to demand sex without condoms, haggle mercilessly over price or specific acts, or use threats or violence to get what they want.

In short "reducing the demand side" is harmful to women because it diminishes their bargaining power, forcing them to do more for less money, with more dangerous johns, under less safe environment. We cannot criminalize our way out of the current situation--we must address this social and economic concern with solutions that achieve social and economic justice. We can begin by funding affordable housing, childcare, treatment programs on-demand (instead of many months' wait list), and education and job training programs, instead of more jail beds or police cars.

September 27, 2008

Stop the Campaign of Fear and Intimidation on the Street

Portland Mercury's Sarah Mirk writes about the incident where two 82nd Avenue area residents taking pictures of alleged prostitutes were maced by them. As Mirk correctly points out, there is no proof that the alleged prostitutes were engaging in any illegal activity, and they may be simply responding to the creepy photo-takers stalking them.

Regardless of what one thinks about the prevalence of prostitution on the street, Portland Police Bureau strongly discourages vigilantism. We join them in asking area residents to stop the campaign of fear and intimidation against women on our street, and work toward building compassionate and just responses to prostitution on the street. Some may think that it is a good idea to drive away alleged prostitutes by harassment, but it would only push them to areas they will become more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

September 21, 2008

Debunking the Myth of "Average Age of Entry"

At the Prostitution Town Hall meeting last week, several panelists stated that the average age of entry into prostitution was 12-14 year old. Although this claim is clearly implausible, it generated the impression that virtually all prostitutes started as children, and became the basis for the discussion that followed thereafter.

But the impression is unfounded. The figure comes from a 2001 report written by University of Pennsylvania researchers Richard Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, and is actually the average age of entry into prostitution among minors who are in prostitution.

If you survey only minors, average age of anything would be pretty low. For example, the average age of death for those who died during childhood would be some shockingly low figure, but it does not tell us anything about the average life expectancy of the population at large.

September 16, 2008

Mercury Blog covers 82ndCARES--and a request for Montavilla In Action

There's a story about our blog on Portland Mercury's official blog. It even includes our crime chart, which we re-post below. Thanks Sarah!

Now, some people seem to be confused about the point we are trying to make with this chart. Our point is NOT that prostitution has not increased after PFZ ended: quite clearly, the chart shows that the number of prostitution cases has increased over the past two quarters, according to Police figures. But fluctuations are to be expected for prostitution figures: a big sweep results in dozens of arrests on one day, so a couple of those in a given quarter and it would appear that prostitution has drastically increased. In fact, what the chart actually shows is not that prostitution is on the rise, but that police is perfectly capable of enforcing prostitution laws without PFZ (not that we advocate for criminalization of these women anyway...).

The point we are trying to make is not about prostitution at all, but the fact that other crimes, particularly violent crimes and property crimes, have not increased since PFZ was lifted. Unlike prostitution, figures for these crimes are not elastic: they do not fluctuate at the whim of the police strategy. And when you look at the numbers, almost all categories of crimes have declined in the last year. This is true not just in Montavilla, but also in Mt. Tabor, South Tabor, and other neighborhoods. If you don't think it's true, go ahead and check it out for yourself.

Finally, in the comment section of the Mercury blog, a representative of Montavilla In Action states that they are interested in working with us (82ndCARES Coalition). Fabulous! I'm sure that we'd be happy to work with any concerned members of our community, and we will get back to you on that in the next week or so (we discuss things over internally over email, and it takes time to come to a consensus on anything).

But one quick request for MIA in the meantime: could you please stop denigrating Donyel Hormats, the woman who was exonerated of a murder charge after she defended herself from an attacker on the 82nd? In particular, in your "timeline" of events, you state:

Aug 15, 2008 - Known & convicted 19 year old prostitute stabs to death a competing pimp form out of state at 8pm on a neighborhood street--"turf war."

This statement is highly misleading and possibly libelous, as it portrays Donyel as a cold-blooded killer who acted out of greed in a "turf war." The truth is that she was attacked and beaten by three unknown men as she was sitting on a bench, and she did what she had to do to survive. Didn't you see bruises on her face in the police picture? Grand jury found her story credible enough to exonerate her for the charge of murder, which we are very thankful. Donyel was not the aggressor; she is just a young woman who had to defend herself.

It is absolutely despicable to continue to defame and blame a victim of violent crime simply because she has a history of prostitution arrests (we weren't able to verify any conviction, and no media story has so far reported that she has been convicted of any crimes in the past). Had she been a 19-year old college student, or some other person with middle-class standing instead, you would be rallying around her (rightfully so). After all, aren't we fighting for safe neighborhood for every neighbor?

September 14, 2008

To Our Neighbors: We Come In Peace

On September 15, which is tomorrow, members of our group--many of whom are area residents--plan to attend "Take Back 82nd" community forum to "curb prostitution" along the 82nd Avenue. While we share forum sponsors' concern for safety and livability of our neighborhoods, there are also important differences as to what that would look like, or how to achieve it. But nonetheless we appreciate their commitment to civic engagement and action, and approach the forum in the spirit of respectful exchange of ideas.

The fundamental belief that our members share is that the situation on the 82nd is not a law enforcement issue, but that of social and economic justice. As such, we believe that the primary response to the situation must be social and economic, rather than more cops on the street or harsher punishment for people caught up in the street economy. To find out more about where we are coming from, please read the rest of this blog. You are welcome to send us your opinions at 82ndCARES@gmail.com.

The forum will be held at Vestal Elementary School at 161 NE 82nd Avenue from 6:00pm to 8:30pm on September 15, 2008. We hope to see our friends there.

September 6, 2008

Why Prostitution Free Zone is Dangerous

There are many reasons we believe that the reinstatement of Prostitution Free Zone is a bad idea. But the basic point is that PFZ is dangerous for our most vulnerable neighbors, the women and men who work on the streets. Here are some of the reasons:

1) PFZ does not stop prostitution, but displaces it onto less populated or traveled areas. Women and men working there will be more isolated, and in less familiar turf. These factors increases the very real and already heightened risk of violence against them.

2) PFZ deprives them of life-saving and life-sustaining social services that are located in the 82nd area. True, "variances" were issued to allow excluded individuals to enter PFZ in order to receive services, but the rules were prohibitively restrictive. In addition, it makes it harder for outreach workers to locate them if they are dispersed away from busy areas.

3) When someone violates the exclusion order, she or he will face a criminal trespass charge. It may function to trap someone in prostitution, because each additional criminal record diminishes one's chance of leaving prostitution and obtaining "legitimate" jobs.

4) In case anyone still cares about the constitutional guarantee of civil liberties, PFZ violates our civil liberties. It grants police officers the power to "excluded" someone from large portions of the City before she or he is convicted of any crimes. Yes, there is an appeal process, but this being a civil exclusion you do not have the same rights and guarantees that criminal defendants have, such as the right to an attorney, due process, jury by peers, presumption of innocence, or beyond reasonable doubt standard.

September 5, 2008

The Fundamental Point: It's About Justice, Not Law Enforcement

The fundamental point we disagree with our neighbors who are calling for the reinstatement of Prostitution Free Zone or harsher policing/prosecution of prostitution-related "crimes" is that we do not believe that what's happening in the 82nd Avenue area is a law enforcement problem. Rather, we believe that it is an issue of social and economic justice.

How so? Well, let's look at what women (and men, and people of other genders) working on the street are facing: lack of affordable housing, lack of good-paying employment opportunities for less skilled or educated workers, lack of childcare for mothers who work (which also limits their employment options), lack of treatment services for substance use or for mental health, etc.... The list goes on. These are the fundamental problems we face in our communities, and we cannot police and criminalize our way out of it.

And speaking of criminalization: it should be obvious to anyone that having criminal records prevents one from obtaining "legitimate" jobs, even lowly-paid, mundane ones like working for fast-food restaurants, so it creates further burden on women hoping to stop working on the street. Once again, it shows that further criminalization is not the solution, but social and economic justice is.

September 4, 2008

Picking Up Used Needles and Condoms--Time for True Unity

Of all complaints from neighbors, this one appears to be among the most serious ones: how can we get rid of used needles and condoms off our street, where they pose health risks?

Until several years ago, there was an organization named Danzine on SE Burnside, which handed out clean syringes at the storefront in order to reduce HIV and Hepatitis C infections spread through sharing of contaminated needles. Neighbors became concerned that some of these syringes ended up littered on the street after use, which posed a serious health threat.

Danzine responded by sending a crew of volunteers equipped with gears once a week to pick up and safely dispose of any needles, condoms, and other trash laying on the ground in the 12-block area surrounding its storefront. It was an ingenuous solution that protected substance users' health as well as everyone else's.

This is a practical, proven strategy to actually make our communities safer--safer from health hazards posed by contaminated materials on the ground. And it is something we could all get behind, regardless of what one thinks about Prostitution Free Zone or any other topics. Anyone else interested in working on this project?

Also: if we care enough about stopping people from littering used syringes, we should consider the fact that many do so because they fear, correctly, that it is legally risky to carry used syringes on them. In fact, severity of the penalty in a drug case may be directly linked to how many syringes one is caught with. Hence, more police crackdowns on drug users can cause more littering, unless the government is prevented from using one's possession of used syringes as an evidence in the court. Just a thought.

August 23, 2008

Grand Jury recognises a Woman's Right to Self-Defense

Grand jury refused to indict Donyel Hormats of murder charge, concluding that she acted in self-defense in the fatal stabbing of a man who tried to force her to work as a prostitute for him. Some details from The Oregonian:

Hormats told authorities she was carrying a hunting knife for protection because she had been assaulted on Southeast 82nd Avenue two nights earlier by Christopher Darrell Richardson.

Portland police say Richardson, 21, originally from Los Angeles, was involved in a gang, and officers are noticing a nexus between gang activity and street prostitution along Southeast 82nd Avenue.


Hormats told authorities she had sprayed Richardson with mace and ran Aug. 13 after he grabbed her on Southeast 82nd Avenue and tried to get her to work for him.

Hormats was charged with attempted prostitution and prostitution procurement that night on Southeast 84th Avenue and Yamhill Street and reported the assault to police.

Two nights later, Hormats told police she was sitting on the curb on Southeast Morrison Street, near 82nd Avenue, about 8 p.m. when a car full of people drove by, then suddenly backed up.

According to Hormats' lawyer, Barry Engle, one person in the car shouted at Hormats, "I'll teach you!" Richardson was among three or four people who got out of the car and approached Hormats. She ran but said Richardson grabbed her arm and swung her around. Another man punched her in the back of the head.

Hormats told police she then stabbed Richardson once in the chest with her hunting knife. He died at a local hospital later that night.


Portland police say they're hoping to increase penalties for women and johns who are frequently arrested, and finding ways to connect the women to social services. One idea is to have the courts move the cases out of community court, where they now land, and put the offenders under supervised probation, Golliday said.

Hello Portland Police? Donyel reported her assault on August 13, and all you did was to arrest her? Clearly, something is not working with the current approach to crimes in the 82nd Avenue area, and it's not that the penalties are too light for the women charged with prostitution.

August 20, 2008

Support Donyel Hormats--Everyone deserves to be safe

Yesterday's The Oregonian has an article about the incident that took place on SE 82nd Avenue last week in which a man was stabbed and killed by a woman with a history of prostitution arrests. The article goes:

A young woman who was picked up on prostitution-related charges last Wednesday is now behind bars, accused of fatally stabbing a man she said was trying to get her to work for him as a streetwalker on Southeast 82nd Avenue.

Police say Donyel Helen Hormats, 19, stabbed Christopher Darrell Richardson, 21, once in the chest shortly after 8 p.m. Friday on Southeast 82nd Avenue near Morrison Street. He died later in the evening at a hospital.

Hormats told authorities she was carrying a knife for protection because she had been assaulted the previous night. She now faces one count of murder, and was arraigned in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Monday. In Hormats' booking photo, her right eye is black and blue.

Friday night, Richardson flagged down Portland officers after he was stabbed. He was taken to OHSU Hospital, where he died. Hormats was at the scene when police arrived. Investigators suspect she may have acted out of self-defense, but a Multnomah County grand jury will decide whether to issue an indictment when it hears the case later in the week. Hormats is due back in court Aug. 26.

Investigators say Richardson either was trying to pimp Hormats, or give her trouble for competing with women he was pimping on the avenue.

Hormats had been arrested two nights earlier, at 5:50 p.m. Wednesday at Southeast 84th Avenue and Yamhill Street. She was accused of attempted prostitution and prostitution procurement.

Richardson, a Los Angeles native, had prior felony convictions. On June 20, Gresham police stopped him after he allegedly threatened another man with a gun near the MAX platform at Southeast 181st Avenue and Burnside. They seized a .357 revolver from him. Police reports say he had the gun tucked behind his back in his waistband. He was accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm and unlawful use of a firearm.

On July 30, he bailed himself out of jail and was on pretrial supervision. He had convictions for third-degree escape, third-degree robbery and second-degree theft.

Some neighbors quickly declared this incident as yet another reason Prostitution Free Zone should be reinstated immediately. But before citing this incident as a poster child for PFZ, we should take Ms. Hormats' story more seriously. She acted in self-defense against a man who pestered her in attempt to pimp her, a man who was known to carry a concealed weapon illegally and was unafraid to pull it out on others. And she stabbed just once--which clearly shows that she was not the aggressor, and that she only did what it took to protest herself. We should be glad that she was not the one to end up dead, and she certainly should not be charged with murder.

Would PFZ have prevented this incident? Probably not. In fact, displacing someone like Ms. Hormats makes them less safe and more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. It also make it much harder for social service agencies to reach out to the people who need it the most.

But there is one thing we can agree with the proponents of PFZ, which is that the current official response to prostitution is indeed inadequate. Ms. Hormats was in police custody just a day before the incident, yet nobody assisted her to be safe from the would-be pimp who won't leave her alone. It's very sad that she had to rely on a knife to protect herself because our communities had abandoned her. 

We will keep an eye on this case, and explore what we can do to support Ms. Hormats in her struggle with the criminal justice system. Her next court date is set to August 26th.

August 19, 2008

FACT: Crime Decreased in Montavilla after the Repeal of PFZ

Montavilla In Action states that "we the citizens around 82nd Avenue are having our safety compromised each + every day." Since prostitution between consenting adults does not directly compromise any bystander's safety (although it may be uncomfortable for them to witness it on the street), it must mean that the presence of prostitution is attracting other crimes. Is it true? Here's the chart based on Portland Police Bureau's numbers.

Remember, PFZ was terminated in September 2007, so datapoints before third quarter of 2007 represent the period PFZ was in effect; three most recent quarters (2007 Q4, 2008 Q1, and 2008 Q2) are for the post-PFZ era. As you see, there is no major increase in any crime category except for prostitution, and even that is still lower than the figure in some quarters during the time PFZ was in place.

When you look at all crimes, there were 169.86 incidents per month between January 2006 to September 2007, and 138.67 incidents per month between October 2007 and June 2008, which means that the crime went down by approximately 18% since the repeal of PFZ in Montavilla neighbourhood. No, we aren't saying that the repeal caused the decline--but it certainly didn't cause any incrase.

August 17, 2008

Tentatively Starting...

Last September, City of Portland "expired" Drug Free Zone and Prostitution Free Zone because a report indicated that they resulted in rampant racial profiling. The "Zones" allowed police officers to issue exclusion orders prohibiting someone from large parts of our city for mere suspicion that she or he was engaging in drug- or prostitution- related activities. Civil liberties advocates and social justice activists welcomed the repeal of the "Zones."

But recently, some residents of Montavilla, Mt. Tabor and other neighborhoods along the 82nd Avenue began waging a massive campaign to demand the reinstatement of Prostitution Free Zone amid what they perceive to be a major resurgence of prostitution activity in the area. While we are sympathetic to their concerns for safety for their families, we oppose the scapegoating of the women and men who engage in prostitution--who are themselves doing what they can to support and protect their families.

In the coming weeks and months, we hope to get organized better and disseminate information and opinions through this blog. In the meantime, we invite fellow 82nd area residents and our allies elsewhere to join our announcement list at 82ndCARES Coalition Google Group.