Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA and the US PROStitutes Collective are asking for your help in opposing provisions in House Bill HR 3887 passed in the US House of Representatives on December 4, 2007 and now before the US Senate.
HR 3887 is part of a campaign to use justifiable concern about trafficking to promote a moralistic and dangerous crusade against sex workers – a crusade we are determined to stop.
HR 3887, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007 would allow the Department of Justice to prosecute traffickers without having to prove “fraud, force or coercion”, or that the victim is a minor. Section 221 (f)(1) would add an amendment to the discredited 1910 Mann Act so that anyone can be charged with “sex trafficking” and imprisoned for up to 10 years for “persuading, inducing or enticing” an individual to engage in prostitution or attempting to do so.
HR 3887 is being presented as a necessity to ensure that victims get protection. Congresswoman Carolyn B Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens), co-chair of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus and co-author of H.R. 3887 claimed recently that: “By eliminating the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion except to obtain enhanced penalties, prosecutors will have a more effective way to crack down on traffickers.“
Nothing could be further from the truth. Sex workers and our friends and families will become easy targets and criminalized under this law just for being supportive of each other or crossing state borders, while real traffickers continue to go free.
We know from speaking to politicians that they are being lobbied to back this legislation and that some are not aware of the issues. Urgent action is needed. Please send your own letter, or the enclosed form letter, to your Senator and encourage them to vote against the proposed changes in HR 3887.
The Bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Judiciary so the members of this Committee (see list below) are key to lobby. But all Senators will vote in the end so even if your Senator is not listed, please write them now. If you don’t know who your Senator is or how to contact them please click here and follow the directions: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/
Further criminalization can only isolate sex workers from our support networks and make us more vulnerable to attack. Help us stop it.
Robin Few, SWOP-USA
The Senate Judiciary members include: Patrick J. Leahy (Chairman, D-Vermont), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Delaware), Herb Kohl (D- Wisconsin), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Russell D Feingold (D-Wisconsin), Charles E. Schumer (D-New York), Richard J. Durbin (D-Illinois), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) Arlen Specter (Ranking member R-Pennsylvania), Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina, John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma). These Senators are key at the moment because the bill is in committee, but all Senators will vote in the end. So even if you Senator is not listed, please write them now.
United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Re: HR 3887 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007
As you are aware, many people are justifiably concerned about people trafficked into sweat shops, farms, the sex industry and elsewhere. But legislation (House Bill HR 3887), currently in the Senate, will make it more difficult to investigate and prosecute serious cases involving violence and coercion while providing no extra protection to victims.
HR3887 reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The TVPA defines sex trafficking as where “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion.” Section 221(f)(1) of HR 3887 amends the discredited Mann Act (which criminalizes the transportation of persons across state lines for the purpose of prostitution) to say that if someone ‘persuades, induces or entices’ any individual to engage in prostitution or attempts to do so, they can be charged with the new offence of ‘sex trafficking’ and be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years, or both. No proof of ‘force, fraud or coercion’ is needed to prosecute cases.
This change is premised on the claim that all prostitution is coerced. Sex workers, like everyone, have always distinguished between the sex they consent to (for money or not) and rape. While many may prefer another job, they also point to the fact that sex work is often better paid than most of the low-waged jobs women do.
Claims are made that this change is necessary because of the “acute difficulty of gaining testimonial evidence of fraud, force or coercion.” Many women, immigrant and not, are deterred from reporting rape and other abuse by systematic sexism and other discrimination in the criminal justice system. Changing the law to remove the need for the victim to give evidence about the violence and coercion she experienced is a dangerous precedent. For women working in the sex industry, fear of arrest and for immigrant women, fear of deportation, are the primary deterrent to reporting violence. Why is this not being addressed?
These changes will:
1) Result in more criminal charges against sex workers who cross state borders (and even those who make work arrangements by phone or the web), against clients and anyone peripherally involved in helping someone working in the sex industry regardless of whether violence or coercion is involved.
2) Divert needed resources and attention away from real cases of trafficking (including in agriculture, domestic and other work) which involve coercion, force and violence. The millions of dollars designated for the TVPA to go after violent assailants of women and children will be instead used to go after sex workers;
3) Create an impractically large class of people under the jurisdiction of federal sex trafficking/prostitution law enforcement, even when they consensually exchange sexual services for money. Black women and other women of color will be disproportionately impacted as they are often singled out for arrest and more likely to sentenced to prison. Federal charges carry higher sentences & fines, are heard in courts which are less accessible and result in less accountability to local people’s views about law enforcement priorities.
One aim of H.R. 3887 is “to compile data from every U.S. agency, international organizations and private sources so that the executive branch can prepare a comprehensive analysis of trafficking patterns.” This legislative change which makes no distinction between genuine victims and those working independently in the sex industry would artificially inflate the figures and seriously distort any analysis.
Any provision for resources for trafficking victims in this law can be provided without changing the definition of trafficking to remove force and coercion.
Trafficking is slavery, kidnapping, false imprisonment, rape, great bodily injury and extortion. Existing laws cover all these offences and could be used to prosecute perpetrators whatever work they force people into.
Trafficking is not about prostitution but about poverty and the need people have to emigrate in the hope of improving their and their children’s lives. Instead of addressing this,trafficking legislation is primarily being used to target immigrant sex workers for deportation.
I strongly urge you to vote against these provisions in H.R. 3887, which would dangerously undermine efforts to combat serious trafficking by conflating trafficking with prostitution.
Signature & address