In the state of Alaska in the United States, a legal battle over the right of police officers to engage in sexual conduct with sex workers before arresting them is bringing public attention to a national issue. Two bills HB112/SB73 introduced earlier this year would add an addendum to expand the definition of sexual assault to include instances of “peace officers” engaging in sexual conduct or penetration with a perpetrator that they are in the process of investigating.
Regional updates: North America and the Caribbean
The 19 May is the start of the bi-annual San Francisco Bay Area Sex Worker Film and Arts Fest (SWFAF) taking place across San Francisco and Oakland, California. SWFAF was started in 1999 by Carol Leigh, also known as Scarlot Harlot. She is a film maker, archivist and activist who coined the term 'sex work' during a conference in 1979 or 1980 as an alternative to the phrase 'Sex Use Industry'. She wanted to place emphasis on the agency of the provider rather than the customer, and the term has become broadly used across the globe.
In October 2016, Triple X and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DPLHS) collaborated to hold a convening in Toronto, Canada, bringing together 50 sex workers and health providers from all across the country to discuss concerns and share information regarding the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - a once daily pill that is prescribed to reduce the risk of HIV infection.
In March 2007, Polk County Police Department engaged in 'Operation March Madness' a sting resulting in the arrests of 104 people, including 38 sex workers, 51 clients and 14 for related charges. Polk county has a reputation for large scale stings to get media attention. In the same county Operation 'Trick or Treat' arrested 95 sex workers and clients on Christmas Eve 2015. It came under criticism for the targeted ridiculing of transgender people by the Sheriff by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
The sixty first session on the United Nations convening Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in New York City in the United States of America from 13 - 24 March of 2017.
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.
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.”