Category: Sex Workers Rights

Detroit man shoots transgender woman.

DETROIT – A 27-year-old Detroit man pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting a transgender woman after paying her to perform a sexual act in the back seat of his car.

Jason L. Hogan pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit murder and a felony firearms charge during the commission of a felony.

Hogan met the woman Jan. 13 and arranged to pay for sexual activity in the back of his car, police said. After performing a sex act, Hogan shot her in the face with a handgun.

The woman escaped from Hogan and was treated at Grace Hospital.

Detroit police investigated the case and arrested Hogan.

“This case highlights the mortal danger faced by transgender individuals in Michigan,” Fair Michigan’s Transgender Outreach Coordinator Julisa Abad said. “Since Michigan law permits employment discrimination against LGBTQ residents, trans people sometimes must resort to sex work in order to survive, which puts them at extreme risk of criminal violence. It is incredibly encouraging to know that the Fair Michigan Justice Project, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Detroit Police Department have stated, in no uncertain terms, that violence against the transgender community is unacceptable under any circumstances and that these agencies stand ready to aggressively prosecute these brutal crimes.”

Hogan is expected to return to court May 16 for a sentencing hearing.

“This conviction demonstrates both the danger of serious crime faced by the transgender community, and the robust response to such crimes by Wayne County’s law enforcement and criminal justice systems,” Fair Michigan President Dana Nessel said. “The Fair Michigan Justice Project has proven to be effective in filling the need for rapid and effective in filling the need for rapid and respectful response to crimes committed against LGBTQ persons.”

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A 27-year-old Detroit man charged in the shooting of a transgender prostitute in January has pled guilty, the Fair Michigan Justice Project announced Thursday.

Jason L. Hogan pled guilty on Wednesday to two charges, court records show: assault with intent to commit murder, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He will be sentenced on May 17 before Judge Paul Cusick in Wayne County Circuit Court.

On Jan. 13, Hogan sought the services of a transgender woman prostitute in the area of Palmer Park, on Woodward, confirmed Officer Jennifer Moreno, a Detroit Police Department spokeswoman.

He picked the 31-year-old up in a black Jeep and stopped at an ATM at the Sunoco Gas Station on the 16200 block of Oakland to pull out $60, according to the transcript of a court proceeding in the case. From that money, the woman bought crack and a crack pipe that the two could share.

With the drugs obtained, Hogan drove the pair to the back of Michael’s liquor store, on the 17900 block of Nevada, a spot the victim testified she chose because she’d taken clients there before. The two had to move a baby seat in the car before performing sex acts, according to the transcript.

Then he shot the woman in the face with the handgun, the transcript read.

Three shots were fired. The first shot hit the victim in the left side of her nose. The victim heard the gunshot and saw blood before she felt pain.

According to the victim’s account, Hogan began blaming the shooting on him being drunk, and said he wanted to kill himself. Eventually, he said: “I’m going to give you ’til (the count of) 10 to leave.”

But the victim didn’t want to leave immediately, for fear that she’d be shot in the back of the head as soon as she turned around. It was only when Hogan put the gun down, and the victim was able to hold his arms down, that she was able to make her escape.

“I finally get a hold of the lock without looking, opened the door and then I just jet out the car. My pants is down, my coat is in the car. I left my coat. I left the pipe, the crack pipe with some dope in there, all that stuff. I just left all that,” the victim testified.

The victim ran back onto John R., hoping to flag someone down, but no one stopped to help. She doubled back to the crack house, but was told to leave, because she’d come to the house bleeding.

In the end, “some guy that I decide to beg that left the crack house” finally gave her a ride to Sinai Grace Hospital, but only after the victim “offered to buy him some rocks to drop me off.”

Detroit Police Department followed up and made the arrest. The Fair Michigan Justice Project, a public-private partnership between the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Fair Michigan Foundation, handled the prosecution. Since the project was announced in July 2016, it has brought charges in 13 cases, secured eight convictions, and five cases are making their way through the system, said Dana Nessel, president of the Fair Michigan Justice Project.

In an interview with The News, Nessel said it was “very clear” that Hogan “solicited (the victim’s) services because she was a transgender woman.” She continued: “They discussed specific sex acts that could only be performed on a man or a transgender woman.”

Months after the shooting, Nessel said, based on the woman’s ability to appear and testify in court: “She seems as though she’s recovered from her injuries. She had no difficulty speaking, and was lucky the shot didn’t do a great deal more damage.”

Porn Industry To Netflix: Stop Airing ‘Hot Girls Wanted’

Scores of adult performers have taken to social media this week to protest Netflix’s new documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” for allegedly featuring several sex workers without their permission and revealing a performer’s real name. Now, the porn industry is taking its activism a step further.

As Vocativ reported earlier this week, at least four sex workers feel that the show has exploited them. The series, co-produced by actress Rashida Jones, focuses on the experience of women in the porn industry, especially around issues of objectification and empowerment. It’s a followup to the earlier documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted,” which took a critical look at the amateur porn industry in Florida.

The Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade association, has now sent Netflix and the series’ producers and directors a letter denouncing the documentary and calling for its distribution to be halted. In addition, the tube site xHamster is mailing the documentary’s team red umbrellas, which are a symbol of sex worker rights, and copies of the book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work.”

MORENetflix’s New Doc ‘Hot Girls Wanted’ Is Accused Of Outing Sex Worker

Gia Paige, who is featured in several scenes in the new series, alleges that producers promised to exclude her from the documentary, as she previously told Vocativ. The series also reveals her legal first name. At least three additional performers allege that the series uses publicly available footage of them without their consent.

Netflix and the series’ directors and producers have not responded to Vocativ’s repeated requests for comment.

“We ask Netflix and the producers of Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On to immediately pause the distribution of this series before more damage is done,” wrote Free Speech Coalition in a letter sent to Netflix and the series’ producers and directors. “If your intentions are honorable, performers featured should be able to consent to having their image used, or legal names exposed.”

The letter continues: “It is ironic — and disturbing — that a mainstream series which purports to address workplace ethics among adult film performers and focus on issues of empowerment appears to exploit them for its own gain.” The group further argues that the film may have made the lives of the featured sex workers less safe by making them more visible “without regard to how that might affect these performers.”

xHamster says it is mailing red umbrellas and book copies to the series’ production staff, as well as to Rashida Jones’ home address.

“Too often, mainstream production companies who talk to adult performers and other sex workers decide that they need to ‘save’ their subjects from exploitation, and instead end up being the exploiters,” said spokesperson Alex Hawkins in a press release. “Consensual sex workers do not need to be saved. They need respect, they need consent, and they need to be paid for their labor.” (It is also worth noting that many sex workers take issue with the business models of sites like xHamster, which they argue make money off stolen content and drive down performer incomes.)

xHamster is also calling on Jones to donate her profits from the film to the activist organization Sex Workers Outreach Project. “As producer of the series, it would appear Ms. Jones is the one actually profiting from exploitation,” said Hawkins. “If she really wants to help sex workers, she can help.”

Northern Ireland sex worker bids to overturn ‘dangerous’ ban on hiring escorts

Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.

Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The lawwas introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.

But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.

Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.

“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.

“So in a sense the law is actually putting sex workers at greater risk than before, when there was some ability to trace and track down any client that was violent and abusive. The law to protect women in the sex trade has done the opposite of what it was intended to do. Every escort I know working in Belfast now insists on working side by side with another woman for protection. The law has not in any way reduced demand and supply, which is still the same. It has only driven the business further underground.”

Laura Lee with supporters at the Belfast high court.
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Laura Lee with supporters at the Belfast high court. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.

“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”

Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.

“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.

From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”

Not even Brexit will stop Lee from taking her challenge all the way to Europe: “The European court of human rights does not just apply to EU countries, so it matters not that the UK, including Northern Ireland, is leaving the union. Citizens’ rights are still covered outside of the EU by the European court and if necessary that is where I will go to get this unjust, counterproductive law overturned,” she said.

SNP back prostitution law changes condemned by sex workers

The Scottish Nationalists’ conference in Aberdeen backs a motion condemning the sale of sex as ‘a form of violence against women’

The Scottish National Party has backed changes to prostitution laws to criminalise those paying for sex, but not those who sell it.

Delegates at the party’s conference in Aberdeen voted in favour of a motion proposing a “Scottish model” to handle prostitution, similar to the “Nordic model” used in Scandinavian countries.

The resolution, proposed by MSP Ash Denham, stated that “commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution and human trafficking, is a form of violence against women”.

Currently, selling sex in Scotland is not illegal, but a number of related activities such as “brothel keeping” and “controlling prostitution for gain” are.

For example, while indoor sex work is legal in Scotland, more than one person working together is considered an illegal brothel.

The SNP’s decision drew criticism from some sex worker organisations, who said that full decriminalisation was the only way to the ensure the safety of sex workers.

legalisation-of-prostitution.jpeg
The motion backing changes to prostitution laws, proposed by Ash Denham MSP (Common Space)

The Nordic model is seen by its advocates as a progressive way to deal with trafficking and violence against women.

The motion noted the policy had been “successfully” adopted in Norway, Finland Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland and France.

However, organisations which are led by sex workers consistently argue that this system actually makes prostitutes’ working conditions become considerably more dangerous, because they are often prevented from working in groups or cohabiting for safety.

Ms Denham said the SNP was “recognised throughout the world for its progressive leadership on LGBTI rights, women’s rights, and fighting against child exploitation and domestic abuse”.

“The SNP furthered that progressive leadership by approving my resolution which charters a Scottish model on prostitution that protects victims of prostitution and punishes those that would exploit them,” she added.

Approval of today’s resolution is a big step in the fight against gender-based violence. Thanks to all who supported along the way.

“We have now taken a big step in tackling gender-based violence. Countless victims of prostitution state that violence is an inevitable part of the industry. This is backed up by studies here in the UK, as well as fully decriminalised systems like New Zealand, where prostituted women have said full decriminalisation will do little to address violence. Whether it is ‘above ground’ or ‘underground’ the culture of prostitution is the same: abusive and degrading. I applaud SNP delegates for recognising this.

“Furthermore, many other studies show a clear link between prostitution and human trafficking. The two systems fuel one another.”

She argued that the adoption of the Nordic model by neighbouring countries “risks seeing a displacement effect of traffickers setting up shop in Scotland”.

“By approving a Scottish model on prostitution, SNP delegates have said ‘no’ to increased flows of trafficking in Scotland. The Scottish model also goes further than the Nordic model by committing to legislation that includes assistance and support for those wishing to exit prostitution,” Ms Denham added.

Fiona Broadfoot, a former sex worker standing to be an SNP councillor, spoke in favour of the motion, recounting how, as a 17-year-old girl, she was brutally raped by a client, but returned to work on a street corner “within the hour”.

Christina Cannon, who is standing to be an SNP councillor in Glasgow, argued against the adoption of the Nordic model.

“Sex workers are some of the most marginalised people in society today. Shouldn’t we help them instead of further marginalising them?”

The motion, she argued, did not protect their rights, but would “push sex work into the shadows”.

Nadine Stott, chair of Scot-Pep, an organisation which advocates for sex workers rights, strongly condemned the adoption of the policy.

“The criminalisation of clients has been shown time and time again to make sex workers more vulnerable to violence, as interactions with clients have to become more rushed and clandestine – a gift to people with violent intentions.

“Indeed, we already have evidence of this happening in Scotland – in 2008, the prostitution in public places act criminalised the clients of street-based sex workers, and SCOT-PEP saw a 50 per cent increase in violence against street-based sex workers within just the first six months of the law.

“In particular, street-based sex workers need to not be fearing arrest for themselves or their clients, as that pushes these workers into isolated, hidden places on the edges of cities as they avoid the police.”

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 Nicola Sturgeon calls for second independence referendum in 2018

Ms Stott said many sex workers in Scot-Pep’s network were SNP voters, and were upset and wondering why “a party that they’ve supported in the past would abandon them in this way”.

She said she hoped they would keep engaging with the SNP in the future, and that many in the party were supportive of decriminalisation.

Scot-Pep hosted an alternative debate on sex work at an SNP fringe event.

Robert Sommyne, who attended the event, said a sex worker was “rounded on” during the discussion by Nordic model activists, and that “it wasn’t possible to have agency as a sex worker, because the choice is based on pressures”.

Ms Stott told The Independent Scot-Pep volunteers were “really shaken by the aggression and hostility they were subject to”.

The English Collective of Prostitutes and the Sex Worker Open University, both organisations which advocate for sex workers’ rights and back full decriminalisation, have also condemned the SNP’s support of Ms Denham’s motion.

If is so progressive, worth asking why supporter of abortion criminalisation & opponent of LGBTQ rights John Mason MSP backed it🤔

John Mason, who was a signatory of the motion, has previously argued for a shorter time limit for abortions in Scotland, and tabled a motion in support stating that no person or organisation should be forced “approve of same-sex marriage”.

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BONELA Calls On Government To Respect Sex Workers’ Rights

The International Sex Workers Rights Day is commemorated annually on the 3rd of March to recognise sex workers the world over; to reflect on the rights of sex workers, services, condition of service as well as challenges they face.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme – #BeBoldForChange embraces issues of sex workers as women and recognises the need to be bold to fight for the change we want to see. The theme challenges communities at various levels to stand up for sex worker rights.

BONELA is implementing various projects targeting sex workers. Through this work, BONELA has come to appreciate that violence against sex workers, particularly, sexual violence such as rape and sexual extortion are on the rise thus making them increasingly vulnerable to HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Regrettably, such violence is perpetuated by clients as well as the police.

Sex workers face unprecedented stigma and discrimination in their communities. This is fueled by religious dogma, unfavorable legal environment as well as culture. This has greatly limited their ability to seek redress in the face of injustice and discrimination.

Recognising the above challenges BONELA is scaling up

access to services for sex workers including HIV and STI testing, HIV treatment and adherence to treatment.

In addition BONELA is also providing sex workers with prevention commodities such as HIV and STI education, condoms and lubricants. In order to create an enabling environment that promotes, protect and fulfils sex worker rights, BONELA calls on government to;

Repel section 155 of the penal code which perpetuates stigma, discrimination and violence against sex workers.

To increase funding for sex work programming Register Sisonke Association Botswana – a sex worker-led organisation in order to aid mobilisation of sex workers with the view to increase uptake of services.

Sisonke was denied registration on the basis that the objects of the society contravene section 7(2)) (a) of the Societies Act and that the establishment of an entity like the one Sisonke intends to register is in contradiction with Section 156 of the penal code chapter 08:01 of the Laws of Botswana.

Sex workers speak out in new exhibit

‘If you were in my shoes you’d probably be doing the same thing’

tel-a02-28022017-sexworkerstb.JPGOne of the pieces written by local sex workers and hung at St. John’s City Hall this week as part of “Sex Workers Speak Out: Coast to Coast Perspectives About Canada’s Harmful Laws,” a public exhibit. “We pay taxes. We vote. We promote and project equality, empowerment, independence and self-worth. Our work is consensual. Our work is real work,” writes A.J.K., manager of a local massage parlour.

©Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

None of the women have used their real names, and why would they? Telling their stories is risky enough — and the stories are powerful.

They’ve been harassed, felt unsafe and forced to hide their occupations for fear of being arrested. There’s the universal feeling of judgment, feeling shunned by society for trying to make a living and provide for their families.

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Sex workers afraid to speak up

“People condemn us. They look at us with disgust. Yeah, it’s disgust I see, especially from women,” writes one St. John’s woman. “People can be walking down the street, having a big conversation, and then they see us and suddenly stop talking or pull their children or boyfriend closer to them like we’re literally going to hurt them.

“But they shouldn’t judge me until they walk in my shoes. People need to get outside of stereotypes and judgment. Don’t talk to me about something you don’t understand because if you were in my shoes you’d probably be doing the same thing.”

They are sex workers from the St. John’s area who have chosen to take part in “Sex Workers Speak Out: Coast to Coast Perspectives About Canada’s Harmful Laws,” an exhibit being held at St. John’s City Hall this week.

The display is co-presented by the city and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP), which advocates for the human rights of sex workers and provides support and resources to sex workers in the St. John’s area.

The perspectives of six local workers join those of six from other parts of the country for the display, hung in the building’s Great Hall.

“To be able to have these stories displayed at city hall is important,” SHOP program co-ordinator Heather Jarvis says. “It acknowledges that sex workers are a part of our community, they are important, their voices are being heard and their rights are human rights.”

After the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2013 that certain Criminal Code provisions regarding sex workers went against the workers’ rights to security and liberty, the federal government, under then-prime minister Stephen Harper, passed new laws that recriminalized aspects of the sex industry, Jarvis says, forcing workers underground and into unsafe situations.

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act makes it illegal to purchase sexual services, and makes it illegal for sex workers to advertise and thus make clear their boundaries, Jarvis says, and presents all workers as victims who need saving.

“It creates very real barriers to sex workers accessing basic human rights and puts them more at risk of danger,” Jarvis says. “As much as we can understand where it comes from, it pushes everything underground, creating unsafe working conditions and upholding a stigma.”

The workers’ stories all reflect that experience. The exhibit includes a piece by local worker Autumn Raine, who says her clients include politicians, judges, police officers and others, yet the law impacts her occupation.

“Women working on the street who had safer places to work without worrying about being criminalized would be safer and could make safer choices while working,” Raine writes. “Because of these laws they’re getting raped and smacked around and hidden, driven underground.”

There’s a piece by Jamie and Thorn, a St. John’s couple who met as coworkers in a massage parlour and who have a child together. “The ludicrous and archaic laws governing our work have left us afraid to tell even our closest confidantes how we feed our family and put our child through swimming lessons,” they write. “We watch as our friends who ‘work the hill’ shake nightly, wondering whether their evening might feature violence or arrest or both. In some ways, we’ve had it easy, but in every way, no one in this industry does. Governments aren’t responding. People in power aren’t listening. We’re still scared.”

There’s a piece by A.J.K., a local massage parlour manager.

“We are now forced to advertise (if at all) by using sketchy websites that put everyone at risk,” she writes. “Women have had their personal information, including full names, addresses, contact information, identifying photos and social media accounts posted and shared for everyone to see. This is where we are forced to go to advertise. This is not safe and this is not acceptable.”

Jarvis says there’s not a specific type of person who engages in sex work; she knows nurses, lawyers, mothers and others working in every area of the province, including Labrador.

“This includes strippers, escorts working out of their homes, people working online, in massage parlours and on the street,” she says, noting only about 20 per cent of the workers work at the street level.

SHOP, with a full-time staff of two, has provided services to more than 150 sex workers in the 3 1/2 years it’s been in operation, on a meagre budget: just $65,000 in funding last year, plus donations. Current funding runs out at the end of March.

Jarvis is hoping the “Sex Workers Speak Out” exhibit will result in an increased level of awareness of the needs and rights of sex workers, and will challenge the stigma associated with the job. The partnership with the city — whose officials were interested in discussing the idea from the moment it was presented to them, Jarvis says — is a step in the right direction, she believes.

“Sex Workers Speak Out” will be available for public viewing until Friday, International Sex Workers Rights Day, when there will be a public reception with light refreshments at city hall starting at 6 p.m.

 

Pittsburgh offers several resources for sex workers, but the industry’s stigma keeps many from accessing them

“The biggest issue is [sex workers] not knowing where they can go and talk openly and honestly.”

Last May, while many were caught up in the presidential election, Amnesty International published a call for the decriminalization of sex work. The group joined other international organizations, like the United Nations and the World Health Organization, who have been working to raise awareness about the impact decriminalizing sex work would have on issues like sexual violence and public health.

“Sex workers are among the most vulnerable people in society and are routinely subjected to violence, discrimination and harassment,” said Margaret Huang, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA, in a statement. “They cannot turn to the police and have very few options for protection.

“Our goal is to protect the human rights of all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, and decriminalizing sex work is one crucial step toward protecting the human rights of sex workers. This policy is based on years of research and consultation, including with current and former sex workers on both sides of the question of decriminalization. In the end, we’re outlining how governments can best protect people engaged in sex work from violence and discrimination.”

According to WHO, female sex workers are 13.5 percent more likely to have HIV than other women of reproductive age. WHO says that studies indicate decriminalizing sex work could lead to a 46 percent reduction in new HIV infections in sex workers over 10 years.

But based on regressive attitudes toward the sex trade in the United States — as evidenced by recent actions such as the shutdown of classifieds website Backpage.com’s adult section — decriminalization might be a long way off. For now there are organizations working in cities across the country to better serve the sex-worker community and ensure it has access to social services.

Pittsburgh is doing the same. Several local organizations provide no-judgment spaces where sex workers can receive services like counseling and health care. The problem? Many health and public-services organizations don’t market themselves to the sex-worker community. And often, the stigma associated with sex work stops workers from seeking them out.

“The biggest issue is [sex workers] not knowing where they can go and talk openly and honestly about the risk behaviors they’re engaging in for fear of judgment and being turned into the police,” says Lyndsey Sickler, Persad Center’s youth-services coordinator. “Nobody in the city that I know of actually advertises directly to sex workers, so that ends up being a big barrier.”

Persad is a human-services organization serving the LGBT community. Through working with Persad, Sickler has seen how the stigma placed on sex work prevents youth sex workers from obtaining necessary resources.

“Even though it’s 2017, Pittsburgh is way far behind in terms of sex-worker rights,” Sickler says. “People should stop demonizing sex work, because if there weren’t clients, they wouldn’t be doing it. Sex workers get a bad rap when really they’re providing a service just like everybody else.”

One common misconception Sickler sees is that sex work equals sex trafficking. In a 2005 report by the Sex Workers Project, 17 out of the 21 sex workers interviewed said they were not trafficked against their will.

“There should be more open communication. People should realize that some people do engage in this profession because they wish to,” says Sickler. “There’s a lot of different circumstances as to why somebody would choose to do sex work.

“I hope more conversation is had around this around the city. This has been an historical issue in the city and quite often very ignored.”

Sickler says those seeking more information about sex work can turn to organizations like Trans Pride Pittsburgh, Sisters United and Trans Youniting, which Sickler says are sex-positive and friendly community groups that actively work with people either currently engaged in sex work or those previously employed in the sex-work industry. But Sickler believes more sex-worker advocacy groups are necessary.

“I believe in creating spaces that are as judgment-free as possible and safe for all people. We’ve really done a disservice to people in the sex-working community because there is no community,” says Sickler. “When I talk to young people engaged in sex work I have personally witnessed their high anxiety, not knowing where they can turn, not knowing where they can get resources and not knowing who they can talk to.”

Among the resources Sickler points them to is the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, which provides HIV testing and other health services and counseling.

Jason Herring, PATF director of programs and communications, says the stigma associated with sex work prevents many served by PATF from disclosing that they are in the sex-worker industry. But he says that full disclosure helps PATF to ensure its clients are receiving the care they need.

“We really want people to be honest. We’re a harm-reduction facility, so at the heart of that, we don’t judge,” says Herring. “I’m not going to tell you what to do or what not to do. I’m here to help you be healthier. Part of that is knowing what you’re involved in that you may need help with. Everybody is usually worried about judgment.”

In addition to free HIV testing, PATF provides risk-mitigation counseling to each of its clients, advising them of safety precautions. Sex workers are often advised to take PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, an oral medication taken daily that reduces the chance of HIV transmission. In countries outside of the United States, when PrEP was first introduced, it was specifically marketed as a way to make the sex-work industry safer.

“The most important thing we tell sex workers is to get tested regularly. You should be wearing condoms and doing anything you can do to protect yourself,” Herring says. “On top of that, there are things you can do to prevent the transmission of HIV like PrEP.”

In order to ensure that more people take advantage of its services, PATF works to spread the word that it is a welcoming, nonjudgmental space. And Herring says current and former clients are PATF’s best source of referrals.

“If you’re here to help someone, you shouldn’t be judging them along the way,” Herring says. “Sometimes it is hard to get that word out. But that’s why when we work with people, we want them to be the ones to promote us. If they are comfortable with us, if they trust us, then their word counts more than any flier. If they have friends or colleagues who are engaging in the same activities, then we want them to feel comfortable going out and letting them know we can help.”

Ensuring that people feel comfortable with PATF is integral to the group’s success because it recommends that sex workers, or others engaging in frequent high-risk sexual activity, return to be tested on a regular basis.

“If they’re not comfortable in the experience, if they don’t feel accepted, if they don’t feel like you’re taking them seriously and not judging them, they’re less likely to come in again, much less every three months,” Herring says. “More times than not, people come and they’re really apprehensive, but then they see how easy it is. I don’t think people don’t seek help because they don’t care about themselves. I think it’s more that stigma. Stigma is a very real thing and it has very real consequences.”

Herring says he hopes cities like Pittsburgh can reduce the stigma associated with sex work in order to ensure a vulnerable segment of the population isn’t missing out on much-needed resources.

“The most important thing we can do is to realize stigma is bad, and if you are the person making those judgments, you’re the one perpetuating those stigmas,” Herring says. “The best thing you can do is to be understanding and to be a helper.”