On 9 January 2017, the popular advertising platform Backpage.com removed the adult section of its website in the United States. The closure placed thousands of American sex workers in crisis. They removed the adult section hours after The Senate Homeland Security Committee published a report from subpoenaed internal documents of Backpage.com.
Regional updates: North America and the Caribbean
The 11th Harm Reduction Conference took place in San Diego, California from 3-6 November. It included workshops, talks, and panels with American sex work organisations such as HIPS, SWOP-USA and independent sex work activists like Emi Koyama, who works out of Portland and Seattle. Koyama is active in American sex work advocacy. She presents workshops and speaking on panels at conferences such as the Desiree Alliance and The Seattle Annual Sex Work Symposium hosted by SWOP Seattle.
In Sacramento California, police continue to raid and close massage parlours. These raids are devastating for the sex workers employed in the parlours who, when left without adequate income sources, often find themselves homeless.
From 11-15 October, hundreds of Canadian sex workers in nine provinces were subjected to a fifth and final round of sting operations under the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) initiative "Operation Northern Spotlight." These sting operations involve police officers booking fake appointments with sex workers to gain access to their work spaces.
The Legal Aid Society of New York and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb have launched a constitutional challenge on behalf of women of colour, many of whom are transgender, who have been wrongly arrested under New York Penal Law Section 240.37. “The plaintiffs challenge Section 240.37, loitering for the purpose of prostitution, because it is unconstitutional on its face and also because it is unlawfully enforced by NYPD officers who target women for arrest based on race, gender, ethnicity, gender identity, and/or appearance,” says the Society. The Society goes on to note that, “under Section 240.37, a woman can be improperly arrested and detained simply because an officer takes issue with her clothing or appearance and decides that her purpose is to engage in prostitution.”
Sex workers and sex worker rights organisations in the United States are joining many HIV/AIDS, LGBT, and other civil society organisations to oppose Proposition 60 – “The California Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act.”
“The sex worker community has really stepped up,” says Alex Andrews when referring to the success of SWOP Behind Bars, which launched in late April of 2016. “It’s so awesome to see sex workers do tangible things like donating a book to an incarcerated sex worker and writing a letter. I mean that’s a lost art!
In May of 2009, Marcia Powell died after being tortured in an Arizona prison. She was a 48-year-old woman who was sentenced to 27 months in prison for doing street based sex work.
Sharmus Outlaw, declared Most Amazing HIV-Positive People of 2016 by HIV Plus Magazine, died on the 8th of July from cancer. Outlaw is currently being honoured by her devoted colleagues at the Desiree Alliance Conference for the very session she planned: Trans Rights, Sex Work, HIV, Resilience and Organizing.
On the 20th of May in Brantford, Ontario (Canada), a report was released by Dr. Stacey Hannem and the organisation REAL that assesses the needs of rural sex workers. The report is called “Let’s Talk About Sex Work: Report of the REAL working group for Brantford, Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk. Assessing the Needs of Sex Workers in Our Communities.” The full report is available here.