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Report Finds That Raids Are Not an Effective Tool Against Human Trafficking
Date:1/9/2009

Calls on Obama and Biden to Develop Alternative Approaches

NEW YORK, Jan. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new report concludes that so-called "rescue" raids are not an effective way to stop trafficking in persons and in fact can be counter-productive.

The report from the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, released just in time for the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness on January 11, summarizes findings from interviews with 46 people with experience of such raids, including service providers who have worked with hundreds of trafficking victims, law enforcement personnel, and 15 immigrant women who have been trafficked.

The National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness was established in 2007 by a Senate Resolution sponsored by President-Elect Barack Obama.

"Sixty percent of immigrant women interviewed who were trafficked into sex work had been arrested, some as many as ten times, for prostitution-related offenses without ever being identified as trafficked," said Dr. Melissa Ditmore, primary investigator for the report. "Predictably, Latina and Asian women were more likely to have been arrested than Eastern European women."

"Service providers added that very few trafficked people come to them as a result of raids," Ditmore said. "Rather than being 'rescued' by raids, many women who have been trafficked come forward on their own, with help from people they know -- sex workers, clients, fellow immigrants, anyone who steps in to help."

The study found that raids can be counter-productive to anti-trafficking efforts by further traumatizing, intimidating and sometimes violating the rights of people who have been trafficked, making them less likely to seek help. As one service provider said of one of her clients, "[She] was pulled out of a trafficking situation in such a way that she will never trust law enforcement or government and barely trusts me or her case worker."

Celia, one of the women interviewed for the report, was arrested seven times by local police without ever being screened for trafficking. "These raids are ugly and horrible. They ... bang on the door, they break the door, they come in with the guns out!" she told researchers. "It's really horrible, sometimes if they are very angry, they don't let you get dressed. ... One never lets go of the fear. Being afraid never goes away. They provoke that."

Jin, another study participant who was forced into prostitution, was arrested following a raid and sentenced to six months of incarceration before her defense attorney identified her as trafficked. She described being pistol-whipped and strip searched during a brothel raid:

"[A] police officer struck me in the back of the head with the back of a gun and I fell to the floor and I passed out. At the time I didn't know what was going on...I had no idea they were police when they all broke in. The ones that came in were not wearing uniforms. ... a female officer ... opened up my skirt and revealed my undergarments in front of everyone to see if I was hiding anything on me."

Police practices experienced by trafficked women were consistent with those reported by sex workers who did not self-identify as trafficked, as documented in a report released last year by Different Avenues, a DC-based organization. DC's approach to policing sex work is promoted in federal anti-trafficking legislation championed by Vice-President Elect Joe Biden and passed at the end of the last legislative session. According to Different Avenues, brothel raids and heightened policing of sex work in the nation's capital have pushed the industry further underground, driving people who may have been coerced into prostitution further from help.

This research suggests that raids should be reconsidered as a response to trafficking. As Jin put it, "A better way to help leave my situation would be anything that didn't involve the police."

"Anti-trafficking efforts should be community-based, led by people familiar with sex work and other sectors where there is vulnerability to trafficking, such as domestic work, agricultural labor, and service sectors, people who have experienced trafficking, social service providers, and immigrants rights advocates," said Andrea Ritchie, Director of the Sex Workers Project. "This kind of approach would not only be more effective, but would build community and empower people who have been trafficked rather than subjecting them to the additional trauma of raids, arrests, and detention."

People interviewed for the report included 26 service providers from around the country, 5 law enforcement personnel, 12 immigrant women who had been trafficked into sex work and 3 immigrant women trafficked into domestic labor and other forms of work. The women whose stories are featured in the report came to the US from Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

An Executive Summary and the full report can be found at: http://www.sexworkersproject.org.

About the Sex Workers Project

Using human rights and harm reduction approaches, the Sex Workers Project (SWP) works to protect and promote the rights of individuals who by choice, circumstance, or coercion engage in sex work. In addition to providing direct legal services to individual clients in criminal legal, immigration, and police misconduct matters, SWP engages in policy advocacy at the local, state, federal and international levels aimed at securing systemic change grounded in the experiences and concerns of our constituencies.

About Different Avenues

Different Avenues (DA) works for the health, rights and safety of youth and young adults affected by violence, HIV and discrimination. DA provides harm reduction based direct service and advocacy to people engaging in formal and informal sexual exchange, people living with HIV/AIDS, and other marginalized communities. Programs include a drop in center, job readiness program, venue outreach and referrals. As a social justice organization, we participate in advocacy and organizing to support these programs through policy and social change. Different Avenues' report, Move Along: Policing Sex Work in Washington, D.C. is available at http://www.differentavenues.org/comm_research.html.

About H.I.P.S.

HIPS' mission is to assist female, male, and transgender individuals engaging in sex work in Washington, DC in leading healthy lives. Utilizing a harm reduction model, HIPS' programs strive to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, STIs, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals engaging in sex work. For the past 15 years, HIPS has assisted thousands of sex workers a year in creating options, realizing goals and leading healthy, self-determined lives.


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SOURCE Urban Justice Center
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