February 6, 2009

Joint Resolution 5: The Wrong Regulation for Sex-Oriented Businesses

Oregon State Senator Don Morrisette introduced Joint Resolution 5, which would, after approval by the voters, amend the state constitution to give cities and counties the authority to "regulate the location of sexually oriented business." The main motivation for the proposal is to allow cities and developers to implement downtown revitalization plans that do not include sexually oriented businesses, but Montavilla In Action and some anti-prostitution activists also support the resolution.

But they are misguided in more than one ways. First, closing down sex businesses will increase, not decrease, prostitution on the street. It will also increase out-call prostitution, which is when a worker (or her boss) arranges the date at the customer's house or hotel room. Both of these forms involve greater risks to the individuals working in the sex industry than stripping or lingerie modeling.

But for the Montavilla In Action folks, the problem does not end there. According to The Register-Guard (Springfield, Oregon newspaper), Joint Resolution 5 is not intended to eliminate sex-oriented businesses, but to push them out of "Main Street" and put them in a small area, like car dealerships are clustered together (which, by the way, isn't just prostitution and car dealership--it's common for all sorts of industries to map out that way, and this is known as Hotelling's law in economics).

82nd Avenue is already that car dealership, literally and figuratively. Let's be honest here: if 82nd Avenue was treated like a "Main Street," we would not be having this conversation. As such, we will see more sex businesses concentrate here if the City blocks them from areas it considers "Main Street." Even Montavilla In Action admits (emphasis mine):

We have noticed that the City of Portland did recently target & close a long time adult business in the heart of Chinatown where the real estate prices are quite high now due to the gentrification of that area. Is this something the City will do for similar businesses but in areas that are not has highly desirable for development? Driving more of these adult businesses out of downtown & highly valued real estate areas and out to our working family communities, where we then are impacted daily by these patrons and the documented issues regarding these businesses? How many more adult businesses does 82nd Ave and it's surround cross streets need?

To put it short, Joint Resolution 5 is more likely to exacerbate this problem for the 82nd Avenue residents.

If we were to seek regulation of sex-oriented businesses, we need to focus on protecting workers' rights and lives. For example, dancers at strip clubs are treated as "independent contractors" rather than employees, which means that they are not paid minimum wage and have less protections than people who are employed. A legislation could be introduced to require sex-oriented businesses to treat all of its workers as employees, which would have a dramatic effect on the workers' lives. Another regulation would have these businesses provide paid employee trainings so that all workers know about health and legal consequences of various acts to help them make better decisions.

Unless you are a developer who wants to get rid of porn shops in Old Town (hey, they can always relocate on the 82nd, right?), Joint Resolution 5 is not the solution. It is harmful to the women and men who work at these businesses, and it will backfire on our neighbourhoods.

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.