Molly Crabapple, writing for Vice, reports:
In May 2013, Monica Jones, a student and sex-work activist, was arrested for “manifesting prostitution” by the Phoenix police.
Hers was one of more than 350 arrests carried out by Project ROSE in conjunction with Phoenix police since the program’s inception in 2011.
Project ROSE is a Phoenix city program that arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online. They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion program to those who qualified. Those who did not may face months or years in jail.
In the Bethany Bible Church, those arrested were not allowed to speak to lawyers. Despite the handcuffs, they were not officially “arrested” at all.
In law enforcement, language goes through the looking glass. Lieutenant James Gallagher, the former head of the Phoenix Vice Department, told me that Project ROSE raids were “programs.” The arrests were “contact.” And the sex workers who told Al Jazeera that they had been kidnapped in those windowless church rooms—they were “lawfully detained.”
“Project ROSE is a service opportunity for a population involved in a very complex problem,” Lieutenant Gallagher wrote to me in an email. Sex workers were criminals and victims at once. They were fair game to imprison, as long as they were getting “help.”
Project ROSE is the creation of Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. She is the director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and a tenured professor at Arizona State University…
…According to Project ROSE’s website, most costs are absorbed by taxpayers, who pay the salaries of the officers carrying out the raids. Fifteen-hundred dollars more per day goes to the Bethany Bible Church. Volunteers, including students from Arizona State University, fill in the gaps. SWOP-Phoenix, an activist organization by and for sex workers, is filing freedom-of-information requests to discover ROSE’s other sources of funding.
At first, Project ROSE may seem similar to the many diversion programs in the United States, in which judges sentence offenders to education, rehab, or community service rather than giving them a criminal record. What makes ROSE different is that it doesn’t work with the convicted. Rather, its raids funnel hundreds of people into the criminal justice system. Denied access to lawyers, many of these people are coerced into ROSE’s program without being convicted of any crime. Project ROSE may not seem constitutional, but to Roe-Sepowitz, “rescue” is more important than rights.
In November 2013, Roe-Sepowitz told Al Jazeera: “Once you’ve prostituted you can never not have prostituted… Having that many body parts in your body parts, having that many body fluids near you and doing things that are freaky and weird really messes up your ideas of what a relationship looks like, and intimacy.”
“As a social worker, you’re supposed to see your clients as human beings,” Monica told me. “But her way of thinking is that once you’re a sex worker, you can never not be a sex worker.”…
…Monica is a proud activist. Days ago she spoke to USA Today, comparing struggles against Arizona’s SB 1062 bill (which permits businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals) to those her family fought for their civil rights…
…Monica told me she had accepted a ride home from her favorite bar the night of her arrest. Once inside the car, undercover officers handcuffed her. They were rude, she said, calling her “he” and “it” (Monica is trans, but her ID lists her as a female). They threatened to take her to jail. Like many incarcerated trans women, Monica had previously been imprisoned with men. Frightened, Monica agreed for them to take her to the church.
Ineligible for Project ROSE’s diversion program because of previous prostitution convictions, Monica now faces months in jail and worries incarceration will hamper her pursuit of a degree. She has been questioned on the street three times since her arrest. Once, police handcuffed her for 15 minutes.
“Because I was very outspoken about the diversion program, being out there protesting and also being a student of ASU School of Social Work, I feel like the police knew about me,” Monica said. “I was very loud, so they could pick me out of the crowd.”
Monica was arrested for “manifesting prostitution,” a statute in the Phoenix municipal code that takes everything from starting conversations with passersby to asking if someone is an undercover cop as proof that you’re selling sex..
…Some might say Project ROSE is harmless. After all, those eligible for diversion can have their charges dropped if they’re among the 30 percent who manage to complete the program. But many of the hundreds arrested in Project ROSE’s raids are not eligible, either because cops find drugs or weapons on them or because they’ve been charged with prostitution before.
“All persons found to be participating in prostitution activity are breaking the law, regardless of motive,” says the fact sheet Project ROSE gives the media. Those not eligible are criminals. Their freedom is a small price to pay for forcing others into a program that might remove them from “the life.”…
…at ROSE’s heart is DIGNITY Diversion, 36 hours of classroom time run by Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities’ website boasts a photo of a white girl, a tear running down her cheek. Who could resist opening their wallets before such innocence destroyed? Catholic Charities offers walking tours of the sketchy parts of town. Tender-hearted folk can gawk at sex workers…
Monica is a graduate of DIGNITY Diversion. Forced into this program by another prostitution arrest, Monica sat in a classroom from 8 AM to 4 PM, without food, while vice cops described girls overdosing on heroin. Jail was held over the heads of attendees until they finished the program, though many were going broke from their loss of sex-work income. Monica described the class as having the religious overtones of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In keeping with the program’s Catholicism, no condoms were provided. Neither was child care…
…Monica’s trial is in March. The prisons she may be sentenced to are brutal. Arizona is the home of the notorious Tent City, an outdoor complex of bunks and razor wire, where prisoners’ shoes melt from the relentless heat…
…“There is no gray. It’s illegal behavior,” Dominique Roe-Sepowtitz said, speaking about prostitution to Al Jazeera.
Like Catholic Charities’ hooker tours, her attitude is Victorian. To those like Roe-Sepowitz, there are God’s poor and the Devil’s poor. There are victims Project ROSE can save, and there are repeat offenders, unrepentant whores. They can be locked in cages and dismissed…
You can read the entire article here.
Prostitution is a complex issue. While no one would disagree with the fact that many men and women turn to prostitution to support a drug habit, many other men and women are a prostitute, act in porn movies, or work in some other facet of the sex industry, because it provides them a way to make a living. And, as much as the Puritans among us want to deny it, some people like having lots of sex, and to them, getting paid to have sex is a win-win.
I am of the opinion that prostitution, like drug use, should be legalized. If an adult wants to enter into a consensual sexual relationship with another person and be paid for it, I have no objection. Isn’t this free market capitalism at work, I often ask right-wing Republican Christians, as they express their outrage against my support of legalized prostitution. Besides, where would Fundamentalist Baptist preachers go to get laid?
Often, people will ague that prostitution (and porn) turns the sex worker into an object by which others receive sexual or emotional gratification. They oppose objectifying people in this way. However, all of us are objectified in some way or another. On Saturday night, a woman gives sex to a man for money, on Monday a different woman goes to work at a factory, puts in her 8 hours of work, and receives a paycheck at the end of the week. Both are objectified, the only difference is that the Christian fundamentalism that permeates American culture considers the former a sin and the latter a good example of the Protestant work ethic.
And therein lies the fundamental problem of Project ROSE. It is inherently a Christian program meant to judge sex workers according to the strictures of the Puritanical fundamentalist Christian laws governing sexuality. Simply stated, this law is:
One man, one woman, married for life, with no form of sexual identification or practice besides this.
American fundamentalist Christians are obsessed with the sexual proclivities of others. Armed with the Christian Bible and its commands against fornication, adultery, and homosexuality, fundamentalist Christians demand that everyone live according to their moral standard. Evidently, in Phoenix they are willing to use the force of law to enforce their demands. ( and yes I realize that the Project ROSE website does not mention religion, but the signs are there for all to see, i.e. where the sex workers are taken after they are rounded up)
The church mentioned in Crabapple’s article, Bethany Bible Church, is a fundamentalist Christian church. Based on their staff size, I assume it is a mega church. (you can read the church’s doctrinal statement here) While the church does receive $1,500 every time there is a prostitute roundup, I am sure they see this as an opportunity to “minister” to prostitutes. This would be fine IF the men and women were there voluntarily, but since they are rounded up and held against their will, how is this any different from what human traffickers do? (different of course, but the same in the sense of being held involuntarily)
As those of us who spend the bulk of our time reporting on and writing about the Evangelical church know, sex workers have plenty of Evangelical customers. These hypocrites support Project ROSE on Sunday and get a blow job from a prostitute on Saturday night. Many sexual-errant Evangelicals are a perfect example of a person who doesn’t practice what they preach. (Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart)
I have advised Evangelicals preachers, who are not getting what they need sexually at home, to use the services of a sex worker. Instead of having an affair and destroying their family, or having sexual relations with a minor and going to prison like Jack Schaap did, why not seek out a woman who can take care of their wildest sexual fantasy?
Every week, more and more reports are coming out about Evangelical preachers, deacons, and church leaders that can’t keep their fly zipped up. Their sexual peccadilloes destroy families and churches. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone involved if they had a regular blow job appointment with Nikki or Constance?
And let’s not forget that many marriages are little more than prostitution; contractual relationships where a person consents to sex in return for some sort of material remuneration. I pastored a few couples over the years where it was quite apparent that the wife was trading sex for a certain standard of living. In one case, the couple didn’t have sex at all. The wife, who hated having sex, was quite content to be the keeper of the home while allowing her husband to seek sexual gratification elsewhere.
If a sex worker has a substance abuse problem they need and deserve treatment. Being rounded up illegally and being treated like the scum of the earth is the last thing they need. (and just because someone uses illegal drugs doesn’t necessarily mean they are an addict in need of “saving”) For those men and women who voluntarily have consensual sex with other adults, whether it is free or for pay, it is none of our business. Fundamentalist Christians are free to live by the moral code of the Bible, if they can, but they have no right to expect people who are not of their persuasion to do so. When the bedroom door closes, what happens next is no one’s business but the one or more people who walked through the door. We may personally disprove, but I disapprove of all kinds of things, like anyone being a Michigan football fan, that I don’t want the government criminalizing.
By legalizing prostitution, government fulfills its public health obligation, and by taxing it, increases its revenues. This allows law enforcement to focus on real crimes. Monica, the sex worker mentioned in the VICE article, works with Sex Workers Outreach Project of Phoenix (SWOP). SWOP has an article on their website about how to be an ally to sex workers. I encourage you to read it. (link to national SWOP website)
I want to thank Molly Crabapple for making me aware, through her VICE article, of Project ROSE and how it is being used to violate the civil rights of sex workers in Phoenix. If you are not a reader of VICE, I encourage you to check out their work. Many of the articles are outstanding reporting and journalism.
cartoon is the work of political cartoonist Mike Lester.