Monica Jones in Court Today

Recently, Monica Jones, a human rights defender with SWOP, was profiled and wrongfully arrested by Phoenix police because she is a transgender woman of colour. Best Policy Practices Project (BPPP) an organisation advocating for the rights of sex workers in an update published on their website said  "She [Monica] was arrested as part of an initiative called “Project ROSE,” and charged under a vague, overbroad anti-prostitution statute. While dubbed an “anti-trafficking initiative” Project ROSE actually targets people police believe are sex workers. To be clear: Project ROSE violates arrestee’s due process rights. Arrestees are denied council, even when they request a lawyer, and are made to cooperate in a police interview to potentially receive diversion, with no lawyer present. The interview is used to file charges against them if they don’t meet the diversion requirements, which most don’t, because they are too difficult for people in poverty to meet."

As part of their work to raise the issue of abusive and discriminatory policing practices in the U.S., advocates the BPPP and SWOP-PHX sought to speak before the UN Human Rights Committee during the Committee’s review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Jaclyn Moskal Dairman with (SWOP)–the Sex Worker Outreach Project in Phoenix spoke about the criminalisation of  sex workers including under ostensible anti trafficking initiatives that primarily target people in poverty and disproportionately affect people of colour.

NSWP stands with Monica Jones, sex worker and human rights defender in challenging and condemning Arizona’s brutal racial profiling laws. SWOP-PHX and BPPP have been campaigning relentlessly to bring attention to the case of Monica Jones. A campaign run by SWOP-PHX provides more information regarding the state of sex work laws in Arizona: “According to a municipal statute titled ‘manifestation’, intent to commit prostitution includes activities like waving at cars, talking to passers-bys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer. Mandatory minimum sentencing and felony upgrades make it highly probable that workers are funnelled into the prison system for sex work-related offenses. These anti-prostitution statutes enable police to profile and harass people of colour, immigrants, people in poverty, and LGBTQ people."

SWOP-PHX further states that "So-called ‘sex-work diversion ‘programs like Project ROSE increase the profiling and targeting of vulnerable communities — poor communities, people in street based economies, and communities of colour. Trans women of colour are disproportionately impacted. Rather than making sex workers safer, diversion initiatives cause harm by funnelling them into the criminal justice system. Project ROSE and programs like it violate ethical standards in social work and perpetuate the idea that individuals who sell sex are not human. Further, Project ROSE frames its work as saving sex workers — who are stigmatised as scarred victims rather than people with civil and human rights (the right to work, the right to be free from violence, the right to due process and much more). This “saviour” mentality makes no distinction between people who are subject to human trafficking and those who engage in the sex trade to support themselves and their families. Project ROSE results in increased vulnerability and fear on behalf of sex workers, violating their rights while driving them into the criminal justice system. Similarly, Project ROSE may also violate the rights of victims of trafficking, and may not adhere to best practice standards for the treatment and care of trafficked persons set out by human rights advocates.”

Image (c) Micah Bizant