USProstitutes Collective letter to conference in Las Vegas
US PROStitutes Collective
P.O. Box 14512
Tel/fax (415) 626-4114
July 7, 2006
Dear conference organizers,
There are many grassroots sex workers who like us were kept out of the Revisioning Prostitution Policy: Creating Space for Sex Workers Rights and Challenging Criminalization conference July 10th to 12th in Las Vegas because of your high registration fees. We wanted to attend the conference and applied for scholarships and were denied, we appealed and our appeal was turned down. We planned to send two women and you wrote saying we could pay $150 each, so the total cost would be $300 just for the registration, not including all the other costs of getting there. We don’t have this kind of money and find it unacceptable that those who can’t afford to pay are excluded.
As you may know, US PROS is one of the longest standing and most active prostitute women’s organizations in the US; we have been challenging criminalization for the past two decades. Our starting point has been and is the experience of those of us who work on the street, those of us who are Black or Brown, immigrant and others who are the most likely to be criminalized and stigmatized, discriminated against including being forced to work in the most dangerous places and who are most vulnerable to rape and other violence.
We had hoped to present on the work we have been doing in San Francisco to implement a City resolution, calling for violence against sex workers to be vigorously prosecuted and the money now used to prosecute sex workers to be used instead for protection and services for women. The resolution was inspired by the recommendations from the San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution (in which we were members and played a central role in the outcome.) It is outrageous that conference participants have been kept from having access to this important work as well as from the decades of practical organizing experience we have had. Our workshop application was dropped and we were placed on a panel, but given that we were denied scholarships we were not able to share information about this central campaign with conference participants.
To truly make the conference accessible to all who want to attend you could have established a policy of not turning anyone away due to lack of funds – a practice well established by our network and many other grassroots based organizations. To offer scholarships only to a select few as you did frankly was a token effort. Also you could have planned the conference in a way to keep your overhead costs at a level where you could have afforded not to turn anyone away.
There is a class and race division among sex workers and like everywhere else those with the most power dominate and decide who will or will not get access to resources; the organizing for your conference reflects those divisions and power relations. A conference with mainly representation from the upper echelons of the sex industry, those who can afford the high registration cost on top of travel, housing, etc. will allow that sector to set the agenda and outcome of the conference at the expense of those in the sex industry who are the most vulnerable. In addition we note that many presenters are academics, who unlike grassroots women including those working in the sex industry, have the means to get access to a conference like this.
As grassroots women, we are outraged at the sex workers rights movement being turned into a career option for some or a money making venture or an opportunity for a party, while millions of us face arrest, jail, deportation, loss of custody of our children, rape, battering and murder because we are the most vulnerable and because we are criminalized. We put protest in writing because it is long overdue for the sex workers movement to come to terms with the divisions within it, and that something be done to avoid exclusive conferences in the future. We ask that this letter be circulated to conference participants and we look forward to hearing from you.
For US PROS