SWOP Tampa Bay’s first major interaction with the media coincided with March 3rd, which is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.
We had a live interview with Radio Caaracol, a Miami- based radio station that is affiliated with stations in Colombia and Spain. The reporter, Juan Salas, was eager to get SWOP’s perspective on the recent news of Stephen Johnson, Miami Gardens chief of police. He was arrested for soliciting a prostitute when he answered an ad and the provider turned out to be an undercover cop from a neighboring police department. Johnson immediately apologized resigned.
This news comes at a time when the Miami Gardens police department is facing accusations of sexual harassment and also, during a time pf public outcry about a mentally ill man who was shot and killed by police.
The interview went very quickly. It was nerve-wracking for me to speak as a sex worker advocate, as this type of advocacy is new to me and can be easily misconstrued. I learned that even if it is off topic, I must get all my important points out right away, directly after being asked the first question, or I may not have time to make those points later.
It was a good first try for us in SWOP Tampa though.
Here are some of the points I wanted to make about this story (with much help from my fellow advocates Susan, Lindsay and Savannah.)
–This police chief was popular. he had cleaned up corruption in his department and was now facing more tough issues. He engaged in a an activity between two consenting adults (not minors or trafficked women). is this really a good use of city resources–to publicly shame this man?
–The average arrest costs something like $4,000 in tax payer money. meanwhile, the crime rate in Miami gardens is high, which includes the domestic violence rate. Is the police force using its resources to really protect folks who are in danger or is simply making an arrest that will be sensational, for a crime that caused harm to no one…? Lawyers, judges, and politicians have long been famous for bring escorts. Why is it still a priority to go after these clients? Who is it really helping? As in Johnson’s case, it very often has nothing to do with “getting violent criminals off the streets”.
–The woman Johnson hired was advertising as an escort on Backpage.com. It is not illegal to advertise as an escort of to be a paid companion. Now, with the hype of the Johnson case, escorts who depend on their work to feed, clothe and shelter their families, to pay for school, etc, will be forced into taking more unsafe risks, seeing more potentially “dangerous” clients, or lose their livelihood all together. Johnson’s arrest will not end demand, but escorts may be forced now to see more marginal clients, clients who are actually a threat to the community. Does Johnson’s arrest really help women? What about the women who are regularly sexually harassed by cops? Is this justice or is just morality for the sake of scandal?
–There are thousands of transactions made like this every day. Does it really make sense to arrest thousands of people? This also adds to incarceration costs.
SWOP advocates for the basic human rights of escorts and other workers in the adult industry. One way to get better human rights and safer conditions is to work toward decriminalization–where cleats and providers are given options and protections within a regulated structure–instead of endless amounts of tax payer being wasted on stings that do not get to the root of supply or demand.
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