Urban Justice Center
666 Broadway, 10th floor, New York, NY 10012
Tel: (646) 602-5617 - Fax: (212) 533-4598
Report Puts Human Face on Prostitutes as Victims of Violence
Urban Justice Center Interviews Most Vulnerable Sex Workers About Police Contacts
(New York City, June 23, 2003) - New York City's quality of life initiatives have always caught prostitutes in their net. However, "these police operations result in 'revolving door' justice at an extremely high cost to the public, and are a waste of valuable resources. They also violate the human rights of the City's most vulnerable population," said Juhu Thukral, Director of the Sex Workers Project (SWP) at the Urban Justice Center (UJC.) According to the UJC report "Revolving Door: An Analysis of Street-Based Prostitution in New York City," released today, prostitutes reported a cycle of arrests that did not result in appropriate or long-term solutions for the community or for themselves. They also reported a systemic lack of attention to the violence committed against them. Eighty percent of street-based prostitutes interviewed had experienced or been threatened with violence while working.
Ms. Thukral continued, "there is clearly a need for a fact-based public discussion around this issue that includes the voices of sex workers themselves in order to address community concerns effectively and productively."
When asked about reporting violence to the police, "Carol" told researchers "If I call them, they don't come. If I have a situation in the street, forget it. 'Nobody told you to be in the street.' After a girl was gang raped, they said 'Forget it, she works in the street.'" She continued, "I hope that never happens to your daughters. I'm human."
Eighty-seven percent of sex workers interviewed were homeless or in unstable housing situations and could become homeless at any time. In addition, 83% were substance dependent. The City claims that mandating services like drug treatment through police sweeps and arrests is the most effective way to address prostitution. However, UJC found 50% of subjects had never been offered any services as a result of an arrest. Of the 50% who had been offered services, only one was offered anything more than a two-hour health class. "Jamie" told researchers, "I wish they did [offer services.]"
The report also finds that police engage in harassment of public health outreach projects that provide safe sex materials to sex workers.
In the report, UJC challenges the City to mount an aggressive campaign to ensure that all violence against sex workers is taken seriously by law enforcement authorities. Further, UJC challenges the City to offer stable housing and in-depth and appropriate services that lead to long-term solutions.
"Revolving Door" includes interviews with 30 street-based sex workers in six locations across New York City. Respondents were mostly people of color and included women (including transgender women) and men. Fifteen service providers and advocates from organizations working with this vulnerable population and seven City officials and administrators were also interviewed. Founded in 1984, UJC is an umbrella organization for nine projects that provide legal services to various categories of poor and homeless New Yorkers, including the mentally ill, gay and lesbian youth, street vendors, and sex workers. The full report can be found at https://swp.urbanjustice.org/.