Sex Workers in Florida Outed, Endangered by Sheriff

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Regional Correspondent North America and Caribbean

In a December press release, a Florida Sheriff released the names and personal information of 50 sex workers, four of whom were identified as trans. The arrests were part of a sting called “Operation Naughty Not Nice,” which brought together multiple law enforcement agencies in Florida. Fifty sex workers were charged, along with 33 clients and 12 others. Sheriff Grady Judd issued a press release with their names and personal information, including date of birth and places of work.

Four trans sex workers were arrested in the sting. The sheriff’s press release misgendered all four, referring to them with male pronouns. They were identified as “transvestites,” “a transgender,” and “transsexual.” This information was made publicly available despite none yet being convicted of these crimes.

The five-day sting took place from Wednesday, December 9 to Sunday, December 13 2015, but only reached the news in early January when it was reported by the National Centre for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Writing for NCTE, Joanna Cifredo explains,

"Unfortunately, Polk County is not alone in using these reprehensible and dangerous tactics. Police and sheriff departments throughout the country have widely adopted the public naming and shaming of arrestees for sex work-related offenses who have never had their day in court. This kind of careless and unnecessary public shaming ruins lives, and can be especially harmful for LGBT people."

Publicly identifying trans people and sex workers without their consent can put them in danger of violence and discrimination. As Cifredo points out, “Florida is one of many states that does not extend employment and housing protections on the basis of gender identity or expression.” In 2015, 22 trans women were murdered in the United States. Many of them worked as sex workers.

Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade was released the same month as the sting. The report was released by NCTE and NSWP member organisations Red Umbrella Project and Best Practices Policy Project. The report shows that trans people who lost jobs due to discrimination were three times more likely to engage in sex work. They also reported a high level of interaction with police (79.1%). Trans people of colour were more than twice as likely to face arrest for doing sex work than white workers.

This is not the first time law enforcement have published the identities of trans sex workers online. NCTE points to a 2012 incident in which Cook County Sheriff’s Office outed trans sex workers, erroneously identifying them as clients.

During the sting, female undercover officers posted fake escorting ads and male undercover officers set up fake appointments.

In a statement made by Sheriff Judd, he conflated sex work with trafficking and labeled sex workers repeat offenders of violent crime.

The 95 suspects face a total of 21 felony charges and 111 misdemeanors.

Sheriff Judd's press release can be viewed at the National Centre for Transgender Equality website, where the names and personal information of sex workers have been removed.