Project ROSE Ends - Monica Jones Detained in Australia

North America & Caribbean Regional Correspondent

In May 2013 Monica Jones, a student, trans- and sex-worker-activist and member of SWOP Phoenix, was arrested by Phoenix police on charges of “manifesting prostitution” as part of a programme called Project ROSE. Jones had spoken out against Project ROSE just days before her arrest.

Project ROSE, which stands for Reaching Out on Sexual Exploitation, was created by Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, a social work professor at Arizona State University, where Jones is a student. The programme, which operated twice a year in Phoenix, was billed as an alternative to arrest and involved people profiled as selling sex rounded up in a police sting then being brought to a church for staff to determine if they were eligible to take part. If you completed the programme, the arrest from the sweep would not be filed; however only 30 percent of those arrested completed the programme.

Earlier this year NSWP member organisation, Best Policy Practices Project (BPPP), stated in an update published on their website that Jones was “charged under a vague, overbroad anti-prostitution statute. While dubbed an “anti-trafficking initiative” Project ROSE actually targets people who the 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."

Project ROSE was criticised by many organisations, including the ACLU, for increasing the profiling and targeting of vulnerable communities, especially trans women of colour, as well as violating ethical standards in social work. The ACLU of Arizona issued a press release in April stating:

“The charge against Jones should be dropped because the manifesting prostitution law — Phoenix Municipal Code Section 23-52(A)(3) — is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The law criminalises waving at cars, talking to passersby and asking if someone is a police officer.”

“The law also infringes on protected free speech rights and prohibits conduct that expresses gender identity. Police assumed that Jones, a transgender woman, must have been selling sex because she was wearing a “tight fitting black dress.””

“Here, there is no serious doubt that Ms. Jones would never have been stopped by the police but for her transgender identity, perceived gender non-conformity and dress.”

“The law allows police to profile individuals and threaten them with arrest simply because of their appearance. Since her arrest in May of 2013, Jones has been harassed by police four additional times, a clear signal she is being profiled as a sex worker because of her appearance.”

In August, Jones filed an appeal of her conviction and last week she returned to Phoenix from Australia, where she has been studying, to present the oral arguments for the next step in her appeal.

Two days later, it was announced that Project ROSE was to end its stings. Jones made a statement, which was published on BPPP’s site:

“Using coercive tactics such as those central to Project ROSE contradicts everything social work stands for. Social workers are supposed to defend social justice and free will. Using police to round up sex workers robs them of their self-determination and dignity and thus goes against the code of ethics of social work.

“As of today, I have been advised that no more Project ROSE events are planned, and Project ROSE will not be conducting any more police stings, hopefully permanently.  This is a milestone in the community’s struggle to end the injustice of Project ROSE and rights violating policing of this kind. We still have further to go. The next milestones to reach are getting the “manifestation statute” off the books and getting my conviction overturned.”

Just days before, however, the US Department of Health and Human Services awarded a $1.24 million grant to Dominique Roe-Sepowitz and another ASU social work professor, Judy Krysik to expand their trafficking research. The two plan to train welfare workers to look for sex-trafficked victims, which raises the concern that it will be an expansion of profiling work similar to what they were doing with Project ROSE.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Monica Jones was detained by Australian immigration upon her return to the country. A rally to protest Jones’ detention is planned for December 1st at Sydney’s Federal Court Registry.

Artist and writer Molly Crabapple posted the following from Jones’ Facebook page:

“Monica has a return ticket to the US in less than one month, leaving shortly following the completion of her student placement hours. Monica is committed to advocacy for sex workers, people of colour and trans women, and her continued advocacy work will be facilitated by the completion of her student placement. Monica wishes to highlight the stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers, trans women and people of colour that led to her profiling at the border and her subsequent detention. On World AIDS Day we recognise that it is this stigma and discrimination that fuels the HIV epidemic. Come and show your support for Monica Jones at the Federal courts at 2pm on Monday. Stand in solidarity with Monica and show the Australian Government that together with Monica we won’t stand for racism, transphobia and whorephobia.”