Mayor Bowser, Sex Workers don’t need more failed diversion programs, they need housing!
“You think you gonna hit it but you is not getting shi*t”
No Justice No Pride is deeply concerned about a new initiative announced last month by Mayor Bowser to “Reduce Prostitution” via diversion programs as well as the allocation of any funding what-so-ever to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)’s budget to achieve these means.
A year ago, HIPS, NJNP and others sent a letter to DC City Council listing our concerns with pre-arrest diversion programs.
“Unfortunately, these agencies did not seek the input or guidance of any community organizations or service providers. It was not until the program had already been developed that community groups were called to the table to discuss some aspects of the program with DBH and MPD, during these meetings it became clear that there are many important aspects of this proposed pilot program that have not been considered. Meetings informing organizations about a pilot program does not negate the fact that the program was developed without community members or anyone with lived experiences’ input.” — You can read the rest of the letter here.
But what is is Diversion?
Instead of arresting and charging an individual for an alleged crime, they are sent to a different option like community service, drug treatment program, etc. There is a couple of types of traditional diversion programs such as Post arrest — offering you a program to drop charges usually at your initial court appearance, and pre-arrest — which still involves the police. Sex worker diversion programs initiated by arrest, the threat of arrest, or incarceration are harmful, especially in communities most impacted by police violence. A recent review by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership of U.S. sex worker diversion programs confirms this. No Justice No Pride, a collective of current and former sex workers, activists and organizers from the DMV area; we are deeply critical of involving the Police & the larger US Criminal System in feel good attempts to sell dreams to concerned community members. Our communities experiences with the police echo this:
“…The officer asked if he could feel my chest, when I refused he said how do I know this isn’t a fake ID? [She has a f marker on her ID] What were you born as? Are you a man or a woman? He later slammed my head against a car causing my lip to bleed because I didn’t want him, I wanted a woman to search me and wouldn’t spread my legs…” — an NJNP Storytelling Participant said of their experiences with the police.
If we want to really support sex workers we need to do just that support sex workers by ensuring their daily material needs are met without involving the police or gatekeeping from the courts. We need to abandon these notions that there is something wrong with sex workers when instead it’s how we treat sex workers. Not to mention! Violence against sex workers often go unreported and unaddressed. Homelessness greatly exacerbates the violence an individual can experience as well as the dependency on the sex trade itself.
So just what are these City Leaders who are so concerned about sex workers doing around housing?
Well in a recent FY2020 budget proposal submitted by Mayor Muriel Bowser paints this picture pretty clear:
- Underfunded the DCHA Housing Voucher Waitlist by $10 MIllion.
- Underfunded Funds to “Fix Public housing” by 343 Million
- Rent Supplement funds to operate affordable housing by $21 Million
- Completely cut the ‘Prevent More Evictions” fund
- Underfunded End Chronic Homelessness by $20 million, Just to name a few.
Mayor Muriel Bowser is no stranger to displacement. Within her two terms she has been outspoken for her support of projects such as the new Wharf redevelopment in which, a 2013 investigation by local radio station WAMU into recent District property sales found that the land used for the Wharf project was formerly public land valued by appraisers at roughly $95 million but was sold to Paramount Development Corporation for a meager $1. On top of charging less than market price for the land, the D.C. government provided the company an additional $200 million in public subsidies and tax breaks. Paramount is run by Ben Soto, the campaign treasurer for Mayor Bowser.
We aren’t confident that any lessons have been learned from these failed measures and call upon city leaders to resist “solutions” that rely on the police and instead invest in community based solutions, built on holistic and trauma informed principles that are rooted in abolition.
We call on the Mayor and City Council to:
- Address continuing criminalization of sex workers and people profiled as sex workers by: Placing a moratorium on sex work-based arrests; Continuing public access to arrest data and maintaining up to date data; and Investigating reports of police assault and entrapment of sex workers and people profiled as sex workers.
- Fully Decriminalize Sex Work — We must double down on efforts to remove the criminal justice system from the context and end the criminalization of people paying for consensual sex and associated practices.
- Fully funding The Way Home Campaign’s housing ask — to invest $35.5 million to house 1,140 individuals and 177 families in FY2020 — echoing our community partner, HIPS; “ is a positive step toward addressing the dire need of DC residents, including sex workers.”
- The City expand access to Crime Victims Compensation Programs (CVCP) so that victims of a crime who engage in sex work can comfortably report the crime and seek legal remedy without facing charges related to their means of employment;
- The City expand access to Crime Victims Compensation Programs (CVCP) so that victims who are TGNC have access to individual temporary housing.
- Increase funding to DCHA’s Voucher program to not only cover those on the waitlist but to have surplus available for individuals seeking access.