Phoenix police made nearly 350 arrests related to anti-trafficking campaign

Published: Tuesday, February 21, 2023 - 4:27pm

Ahead of the Super Bowl in Glendale, the state launched a media campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking. But advocates for sex work protested, saying arrests harm workers and victims. Phoenix police announced they made almost 350 related arrests as part of an effort to intercept what they say is a market for trafficking and prostitution.

Phoenix police Sgt. Phil Krynsky said the operation was meant to provide victim outreach and intervene in activities related to prostitution. According to Krynsky, 120 of the arrests made were people attempting to buy sex.

“It was just a comprehensive operation involved to provide victim outreach, but also to interdict and deter prostitution-related, type activities,” Krynsky said.

Juliana Piccillo is with the Sex Workers Outreach Project.

“You’re never gonna stop people from doing what they need to do to feed their children and pay their rent,” Piccillo said.

Piccillo and other advocates held a demonstration earlier this month in front of the Footprint Center to protest the anti-trafficking campaign.

“It seems like they doubled down on their commitment to putting supposed victims in handcuffs,” Piccillo said. “So I’m heartbroken over it.”

Advocates for sex work like Piccillo say arrests can cause lasting trauma. An arrest or criminal record, Piccillo said, creates barriers to resources like housing for both sex workers and trafficking victims.

“You can’t have it both ways,” she said. “If you wanna help people, you don’t handicap them with an arrest that’s gonna impact their possibilities for the rest of their life.”

Piccillo says instead of arrests, she would like to see sex workers brought to the table to discuss solutions.

“Let us propose alternatives to arresting people,” Piccillo said. “Alternatives to the police rounding up a bunch of workers and putting them in the car, and locking them up or forcing them into services that they don’t want or aren’t ready for.”

Law Enforcement