'End Demand' Gathers Steam in the US as 35 Mayors Sign On to Resolution and Celebrities Sign Up to Photo Campaign

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North America & Caribbean Regional Correspondent

Thirty-five mayors from across the United States, including Bill de Blasio in New York City, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles, have lent their support to a growing campaign for an “end demand” style of law enforcement to be used against the clients of sex workers. They have also called on Congress and the Obama Administration to fully implement the deeply problematic Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which focuses heavily on law enforcement and criminalisation of sex workers and their resources, and very little on services for victims of trafficking.

The resolution, which passed unanimously at the 83rd Annual Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, is a little vague. According to its proponents, the resolution advocates “for aggressive anti-trafficking interventions that focus on targeting sex buyers in order to mitigate the associated public safety, economic, and health risks the nation’s cities experience as a result of the illegal sex trade.”

The organisation Demand Abolition, who released a statement praising the resolution, says that it provides “services to help prostituted people find alternative means of support.” However, their website focuses only on targeting clients of sex workers. On a page titled “How to eliminate demand,” the organisation’s suggested tactics include shaming clients by sending letters to their homes, having residents tip the police off if they suspect their neighbour is buying sex, and seizing vehicles belonging to clients. Information about their recommendations for ‘services’ for sex workers seems difficult to find.

A recent interview with Dorchen Leidholdt, director of faith-based Sanctuary for Families (which is one of the services offered by the flawed New York Trafficking Court system) appeared recently at the Observer. The article, which contains several errors and misleading statements, furthers this increasingly popular argument to end demand for sexual services by increasing the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients.

In the article, Leidholdt argues that all sex workers should be called “trafficked,” praises the NYPD leadership as “great” and says she is presenting the NYPD with a white paper, asking to go after sex buyers through intensified stings. “And to do intensive training so the police will take this very, very seriously.”

Sanctuary for Families also has a high-profile new media campaign, New York’s New Abolitionists, in which notable New Yorkers compare fighting sex trafficking (and/or 'prostitution', they appear to make no distinction) to the Underground Railroad. Celebrities who have been photographed for the campaign include Tina Fey, Christie Brinkley, Diane von Furstenberg and Seth Myers, alongside politicians including Mike Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.