When I first put up this blog post, I didn't realize how toxic the environment was in which the debate between sex worker rights activists and anti-traffickers has been taking place these past several years. It was not my intent to polarize local parties even further by focusing so much on the person who developed and implemented Project Rose, as opposed to simply critiquing the methods the program employs to rescue people. The edits made in this post account for that concern.
I also didn't intend to diminish the reality that there are many lives torn apart by human trafficking, whether or not the labor exploited and stolen is sexual in nature. There are enough in the business who would choose a diferent line of work, given the option, that I don't want to minimize that reality, either. In a truly healthy economy, people would have more choice and mobility.
Sex work really isn't for everyone - but those who do work in the field deserve respect, safety and protection from exploitation and violence. I don't see how Project Rose does anything for them but expose them to even more state violence than they otherwise would be...and it seems as if Social Work should be very much concerned with the principle of "first do no harm" when professional interventions are designed for public policy and private lives. I was a social work student for many years myself, and Project Rose runs counter to so much I learned about social work ethics.
I still adamantly object to a program design which casts a large net to round everyone up in handcuffs and sorts through who gets to be free and who goes to jail later. It "liberates" some at the expense of others, and does immeasurable harm to those arrested in the end. That said, I hope readers who take issue with Project Rose - particularly those of you who are ASU students, will still raise your concerns with Professor Roe, but please do so in a respectful way which allows the dialogue to continue. I don't think her ultimate objective is to hurt anyone, by any means, and I hope there is at least some common ground we can agree on...like the principle that consensual sex workers and their allies also deserve to be free of violence, and thus Project Rose should offer everyone assistance, regardless of priors or other factors, and arrest no one (especially not those of us protesting it). If the people behind Project Rose could at least agree to that much, we will have made progress.
Specifically, the Phoenix Police say that under the Phoenix Municipal Code, she is guilty of this:
A. A person is guilty of a misdemeanor who:
3. Is in a public place, a place open to public view or in a motor vehicle on a public roadway and manifests an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution. Among the circumstances that may be considered in determining whether such an intent is manifested are: that the person repeatedly beckons to, stops or attempts to stop or engage passersby in conversation or repeatedly, stops or attempts to stop, motor vehicle operators by hailing, waiving of arms or any other bodily gesture; that the person inquires whether a potential patron, procurer or prostitute is a police officer or searches for articles that would identify a police officer; or that the person requests the touching or exposure of genitals or female breast;
The first time I put this post up, I did some speculating about the mindset of the Phoenix Police when they decided to arrest Monica. My comments were kind of inflammatory and probably unfair to the arresting officer, so I've taken them down. The truth is, I don't know what the PPD was thinking - maybe they weren't thinking at all. I can't believe they thought we would all quietly go away after this.
It's possible the cop who did the dirty work is the one who made the call to target her while he was driving through her neighborhood, and thought she was really out hooking. I'm skeptical of the arresting officer's veracity and his bias about transgender people, though, having read the report. For one thing, even though Monica's driver's license identifies her as female, the cop identified her using male pronouns throughout the entire police report - he really felt she should be clearly identified as a man, not a woman. And there are a few variations between his version (or interpretation of events) and hers.
I'm more inclined to think that the commander made the decision the day before after they identified her at the protest and saw that she had a prior - which is what makes her so vulnerable to that "manifestation" charge: they apparently use a prior offense as evidence that you intended to commit that crime again. I guess it's possible that her neighborhood was on their map of areas to target, but it seems awfully coincidental that the Project Rose officers were lurking around there.
In any case, here's pretty much what went down: The day after our protest, Monica got dressed up and decided to go to the bar. She's on her way, by foot (through her own neighborhood, mind you), when this guy pulls up in front of her, literally blocking her path, and offers her a ride. She has a mile yet to walk to the bar and was bothered by another dude in the area, so she figures "either this guy is a cop and I've got a safe ride, or he's someone who might buy me a drink when we get there", and she gets in.
Almost immediately the guy starts propositioning her, asking how much she wants for a sex act. Monica wasn't working, though - besides, she knew full well what was going down with Project Rose; he must have been disappointed that she wouldn't take his bait. This guy kept being really pushy, too, so she asked him "look are you a cop? Because there's this sting going down and you really need to be more careful about asking those kinds of things..." He was obviously a cop.
The guy insists several times that he's not a cop, though, as he passes by Monica's bar, and keeps going when she says "turn here!" "stop!" "I want to get out!". So what was she supposed to think? If he wasn't a cop, then he was in the process of abducting her, so she grabs his..umm..male organ, having every reason to be concerned for her safety now (what would you do if you thought you were being kidnapped? That's better than going for the jugular...). Of course, in his report Officer John made that moment sound like a sex act. At that point he gave his buddies the signal to pull him over, and they arrested her for trying to solicit him.
The cops took Monica (in cuffs) to Project Rose's HQ at the Bethany Home Bible Church, where she asked for an attorney, and was introduced to the prosecutor, who threatened to send her to jail that night if she didn't agree to participate in their program. She was not entitled to consult an attorney before deciding whether or not to sign away her rights and enter the diversion program (which is an implied admission of guilt).
Monica had already been through a diversion program, though, which they soon discovered - that disqualifies you from ever being diverted from the criminal system again (that's how they sort out the "victims" from the "repeat offenders" - the "real prostitutes" who they apparently do feel belong in jail). She also would have been disqualified from the program if she had so much as a baggie they thought once held pot in it. After detaining and processing Monica that night, though, they released her without charges...that is, until this fall, when they sent her a summons to answer the charge of "manifestation".
This is no small thing. Monica is facing up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine - with a minimum mandatory of 30 days in jail. Even if the judge doesn't think imprisonment is appropriate, with a conviction she would lose not only her freedom, but also her student loans and class standing, as well as her safe, affordable housing. Now, I ask the perpetrators of Project Rose: just how are you "saving" trafficking victims with this program again? Are you sure it isn't inadvertently hurting anyone?
As a transgender woman who would be locked up in a male facility, Monica faces infinitely higher levels of violence, abuse and exploitation from both prisoners and officers than cisgender people are when incarcerated. She would be forced to remain in solitary confinement for her own safety through the course of her imprisonment - which still doesn't protect prisoners from lecherous guards and the jail trustees. She would have to endure the special "care" of Joe Arpaio's gracious deputies, who are known for beating up some of thier mentally ill prisoners in restraints, and killing others through overt violence or deliberate indifference, among other things.
The law that Monica is being prosecuted under assumes that certain things she did that day: walking in a "high-vice area", accepting a ride from a stranger, asking the man who was propositioning her repeatedly for sex if he was a cop, and making physical contact with his, um, sex organ - were motivated by the intent to trade sex for money. Now, how do they prove criminal intent? They'll point to her prior conviction for a prostitution charge as evidence of that intent: after all, "Once a whore always a whore". They may even use her statement from the protest the day before - she, like myself - believes sex work should be legalized. Does that mean she was out hooking the next day herself? C'mon, guys - you know she wasn't.
If anything, the fact that this arrest went down during Project Rose - the day after she publicly criticized the sting - should have been evidence enough to the cops that Monica WASN'T attempting to solicit anyone - she knew full well what they were up to. They should have been wary that SHE might be stinging them when they went after her - none of us would be so stupid, though, as to deliberately bait a Vice operation.
Even if the cops who picked Monica up were totally oblivious to her role in the protest the day before, Daniel Garcia, the Chief of Police and Aarón J. Carreón-Aínsa, the Phoenix City Prosecutor, are well aware of the back-story to this arrest now - and yet these charges still stand. What does that tell you about the overall "intent" and integrity of Project Rose?
Interestingly, given that some of these Project Rose arrests are being based on assumptions about the target's "intent" behind non-criminal behaviors and their response to having someone aggressively proposition them for a sex act, the Phoenix Police department apparently decided not to record any of their cops in the act of setting these people up - or any of these people actually committing their crime. I guess they know that in court their testimony alone always wins against some streetwalker's version of events - and a recording might contradict the good officer's word, so they made sure not to have any way for these women to defend themselves if they alleged the officers version ws inaccurate. That alone brings the validity and credibility of Project Rose arrests into question.
I recently wrote to the professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work who is supervising the academic/research side of Project Rose about my concerns for Monica and the charges she's facing. She never responded to it, though. ASU insists that Project Rose first does no harm...of course, we can see from Monica's prosecution that this assertion isn't true at all - they appear to be going out of their way at the Phx PD to do my friend as much harm as possible for challenging them.
Project Rose is also embraced by a host of non-profit organizations in the valley, most of which serve populations at high risk of victimization by state violence. They're all collaborating with the cops in the worst kind of way, encouraging violence against sex workers by lining up to have the police deliver their prospective clients to them in a church basement in handcuffs and tears, so they're more receptive to the great services those kind people have to offer them. I think those agencies are being paid from anti-trafficking funds for the time they give to Project Rose, by the way, but don't quote me on that.
Shame on all of those organizations (including ASU, Catholic Charities, EMPACT, Community Bridges, and HealthCare for the Homeless , StreetlightUSA, and ALERT) - beginning with the biggest provider of services to homeless youth in the valley, Tumbleweed. Most of these agencies appear to have a bunch of cops, prosecutors, and big business CEOs on their boards of directors - no wonder they don't know what they're doing. And they all seem to be quite happy to be in bed with the Phoenix Police - how can they really be serving the vulnerable populations that are most violated by the police, then? Word must be out on the street that these places can't be trusted by now.
Anyway, if you're hungry and homeless and you call Tumbleweed for a crisis outreach team to take you to a homeless shelter, you better make sure you don't have a warrant out for your arrest: before they come to your aid those nice people at Tumbleweed are going to call the cops to see where you stand with them - and to tell them where to grab you if you're wanted. I was floored. I had to drag it out of them, but they really told me that when I called them about a homeless 18 year old kid getting out of prison the other day. They said "well, we can't have people up in here who have warrants out for them." That doesn't mean you have to call the cops on them yourself, though! What a violation of trust.
Now, why should homeless and runaway youth ever ask these people for help? They seem far more interested in their corporate image than the safety and survival of their clientele, and clearly lack a meaningful, critical analysis of how state violence plays out against the youth they serve. They certainly don't seem to understand the basics of street outreach and harm-reduction, with these kinds of policies and their cozy "partnerships" with the police. Far too often the people who are there to help those kids only do them harm by involving the police. Good intentions can even kill.
Project Rose has already been roundly criticized in a well-respected professional journal, AFFILIA - and I expect more to hit the presses soon. Please read that article if you still believe programs like this "help" more people than they hurt, or that the harm they do to some is worth the good they do for others. There are far more effective outreach programs to help people who are really being trafficked against their will, and the best jail "diversion" program for sex workers would be to simply legalize prostitution altogether. It would certainly undermine those who are trafficking others by bringing the entire sex work industry out of the shadows, making it safer for victims to ask for help.
The City of Phoenix needs to drop these charges against Monica now, before it takes any more of a toll on her. The intent of prosecuting her seems not only to punish her, but to silence anyone who would publicly call this project what it is - a conspiracy between cops and social workers to lock up people they think are "willing whores". They had to charge Monica for "manifesting" her "intent" because she wasn't actually doing anything criminal - they know full well she wasn't out there prostituting during their sting, and that she had every reason to think their buddy was indeed a cop. This prosecution is malicious - and when she beats it, she's going to have one hell of a good wrongful arrest suit on her hands.
Monica's next court date (we thought it would be her trial, but it's a pre-trial) is November 27, 2013 at the Phoenix Municipal Court. Tune into SWOP-PHX to keep up on what's happening, and visit our INDIEGOGO page to support Monica's defense - though I'm going to be really pissed off if the city makes us spend all that money on a lawyer just to motion to dismiss this garbage...
(note: I made prior reference to Monica being Dr. Roe-Sepowitz' student - she never was. She's an ASU student planning to major in social work, and had simply spoken to Professor Roe before about Project Rose).