“Persons have this moralistic alarm,” said researcher Tara Burns. “They have an idea there is a trafficking pandemic.”
Originating membership of the Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP), Burns believes many arrests are score-based.
“We see cops busting prostitutes for trafficking only so they can juice the trafficking figures,” says Burns.
CUSP is also pushing for legislation to enlarge existing laws to prevent police from sexual contact with victims.
ESPLERP founder, Maxine Doogan, said, “There are numerous prostitutes and women caught in prostitution stings before being sexually assaulting by the cops.”
“Our activity, [prostitution] is prohibited, and that gives license to anyone to do stuff to us anytime they want,” added Doogan.
“To the degree that anybody is believed to have intentionally decided on prostitution, it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in their DNA,” Melissa Farley, an anti-porn activist, wrote in a 2000 article for Women and Criminal Justice.
Doogan says victim proponents are not “confronting the men who have power over our world and want to ignore the sexual violence that goes on with cops.”
“When a cop coerces you into having sex with him with the threat of arrest, that’s an act of violence,” Burns added.
University of Nevada researcher Barbara Brent has been pushing for legislation to protect sex workers’ rights. One part of her plan was to develop a trafficking education program for Nevada’s first responders.
In an email, she wrote: “Participants, including Las Vegas Metro, who receives trafficking funds from the federal government, said I couldn’t include sex worker rights as we developed programs to protect the women.”
“The problem,” says Burns, “is the way groups and agencies switch definitions of a sex trafficking victim. There is no clear-cut line between youths who are being coerced and held in bondage while being commercially trafficked and kids that are underage and trading sex for survival.”
If persons aren’t honest about what they are talking about, it is easy to claim the kids are being kidnapped by pimps and forced into prostitution. When that happens, the policy ends up failing to serve the kids who are having survival sex.
Burns points out the situation is similar to the history of laws against gay sex and the stigma surrounding gay persons. “Look back and remember when people said, ‘they are gay just because they were abused as children.'”
That’s similar to the blame seen around sex work. The stigma says ‘prostitutes are either victims or they started out as victims, and now they’re going to victimize someone else.’
“Imagine if you saw the same rhetoric about domestic violence victims. Using their logic, domestic violence victims should be arrested as they’re too morally damaged to understand what’s good for them,” said Burns.