Sex-work advocates say anti-trafficking campaigns do more harm than good
In anticipation of the Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced a statewide media campaign to raise awareness of sex trafficking.
Advocates for sex work say those workers and trafficking victims are distinct, and anti-trafficking campaigns that encourage arrests do more harm than good. A protest under the Stop the Raids campaign was held outside the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Monday night.
Juliana Piccillo is with the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Tucson.
“Any other group of people that are perceived, correct or incorrect, as victims,” Piccillo said. “They’re not given aid with handcuffs on in the back of a patrol car.”
Maxine Doogan is the president of the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project.
“People in the sex trade are not sex-trafficking victims,” Doogan said. “And we should not be arrested for prostitution, even if we were sex-trafficking victims.”
Doogan said the process of an arrest can be dangerous and traumatizing for both workers and victims.
“[Being arrested] often involves these prostitution sting operations that are conducted in hotels or sometimes on the street,” Doogan said. “What they do is they entrap us into offering or agreeing for sex for money, which is illegal on a state-by-state basis.”
During those sting operations, Doogan said police can cross lines of physical contact.
“Especially in states like Arizona, they’re allowed to have sexual contact with us under the guise of investigating us for prostitution,” she said.
Doogan said that especially for those who may be involved with sex work unwillingly, this kind of conduct is harmful. State statute 13-1412 states that it is illegal for a peace officer to “knowingly engage in sexual contact” with anyone in their custody or the subject of an investigation.
Arlene Mahoney is the executive director of the Southwest Recovery Alliance. She said that sex work is not inherently unsafe.
“What makes it unsafe is these bad laws,” Mahoney said. “And it pushes sex workers outside the fringes of society. So if they do experience violence, or something happens to them, there’s no recourse for them.”
Mahoney said the effects of an arrest for prostitution are lasting and can block a person’s access to things like housing, education and employment. In Arizona, a first-time prostitution offense could mean up to six months in jail, fines and up to three years probation. Four prostitution convictions amount to a felony.