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"TPD received a grant to stop sex trafficking. Why did they end up investigating cons
12-08-2018, 07:12 AM
Post: #1
"TPD received a grant to stop sex trafficking. Why did they end up investigating cons
Tucson Weeky - Collateral Damage
12/6/2018 - "TPD received a grant to stop sex trafficking. Why did they end up investigating consensual sex workers?". This was the headline

Brief highlights of a very long article

Extensive article started out reporting on a 50-year old women who returned home from grocery shopping to find two men in her yard. They were trying to get into the side door, she said. She confronted them, and the plainclothes cops handed her a copy of an old online ad for "tantric bodywork." There was a photo of her in a bikini.

The 50-year-old has a diverse work history. She's been a massage therapist, a preschool and kindergarten teacher, a pastry chef. She founded a nonprofit, alternative, mobile healthcare clinic and participates in a clinic on the Navajo Nation as an herbalist, nutritionist and body worker.

And for the better part of the last two decades, she's been a career sex worker. For her, that career is about love and caring. Some of her clients are disabled and elderly, including a 97-year-old man who hires her to cuddle with him.

"I love my job," she said. "I was born to be a whore."

She was one of roughly 100 women who were investigated by Tucson Police Department officers, as part of a three-year-old task force known as SAATURN (Southern Arizona Anti-Trafficking Unified Response Network).

In October 2015, SAATURN was formed with a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Justice, split between TPD and behavioral-health services provider CODAC Health, Recovery & Wellness. It was a three-year grant to address human trafficking in Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties.

Consensual sex work is often lumped in with sex trafficking when it comes to law enforcement tactics, public policy, media coverage and social perception.

The sex industry is a varied spectrum of underground and often illegal acts, but one thing is clear: There's little evidence to support the narrative that children are being snatched from their suburban homes and sold into the sex trade, locally or nationwide.

Through a public records request, the Tucson Weekly accessed a spreadsheet of all SAATURN investigations in the three years since the beginning of the grant and found 10 people who were convicted of trafficking and related crimes. This was out of 516 investigtions.

Some of these investigations started with an undercover cop setting up a meeting with a woman they found in an online ad. When the woman shows up at the meeting, she's arrested. Police might also confiscate her cell phone and any abundance of cash she has on her.

If she has a man with her, they are arrested and investigated to see if they could be considered a trafficker. If she is found to be a trafficking victim, she won't typically be charged.

There is a diversion program for a seven-and-a-half hour class. When someone completes the diversion program, their charges are dropped. But the fact they had contact with police will likely still come up in a background check, as will the charges.

Refusing diversion on prostitution charges usually results in 15 days in jail, a $438 fine plus state surcharges, and one year of unsupervised probation, according to Merritt. On top of the fine, the defendant would be responsible to pay jail fees, which are $325 for the first day and about $100 each consecutive day, though judges rarely order a defendant pay the entire fee.

Diversion is not typically offered on a second prostitution offense. A conviction usually has a penalty of 30 days in jail, $987 in fines and up to three years of probation. Merritt says in some cases, like if someone receives food stamps, there may be a substantial reduction in fines.

Merritt said he sees a steady stream of arraignments for no escort license. Prostitution charges are more likely to come from agreeing to an act of prostitution, which a sex worker may do with an undercover cop before being arrested.

Of course, many women who are doing sex work don't have much money or another way to make a living. Sex worker advocates say stacking them with fines and charges that show up on background checks for employment and housing only makes it harder for them to leave the sex industry if or when they want to.

The Department of Justice, which disperses the grant, directed TPD in February to stop conducting operations that start with the intention of arresting the sex provider, Frie said. The DOJ also forbid them from using the grant for demand suppression or arresting buyers, also referred to as "Johns." The spreadsheet indicates that no Johns or sex workers were arrested through SAATURN since that order.

Frie said since heading this taskforce, he's realized that trafficking is not as black-and-white as he originally thought. He recognizes that not all sex work is the same and there are no easy answers.

"I know that prostitution is the world's oldest profession," he said. "I know that it's not going anywhere. And I know there's a lot of women that engage in it of their own free will."

Frie said he can't advocate for legalization because of the terms of the grant but that some type of legalization may be part of the bigger solution. He says if it were ever legalized, he'd like to see the people engaging in it to show they're independent and free of coercion—financial freedom, freedom of movement, access to their own funds and their own place.

Although the grant period ended in September, TPD had left-over funds and got an extension until March 31, 2019. They're not reapplying for the grant because of staffing issues and the difficulty in putting efforts toward what Frie calls a "very niche type of investigation."

Frie says they're currently going back through the spreadsheet and reaching out to people who previously told them to go away, asking again if they need help.

How to save victims without creating more

I grabbed a coffee with Cutter on April 11, a year after she came home to police casing her house and on the same day the U.S. House and Senate each passed the bipartisan legislation, FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) and SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act).

The legislation holds websites responsible for what users put on the platform, allowing states and individuals to sue sites they believe are enabling sex trafficking. SESTA/FOSTA conflates trafficking with all sex work and could cover almost any sex-related online forum. FOSTA says website owners who run a service "to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person" can spend up to 10 years in prison.

Through online advertising, sex workers have a safer way to find and vet clients. Rather than get into a stranger's car off the street, sex workers could ask potential clients for references. They had an opportunity to give a friend a client's number and tell the friend when and where they would be working.

Shutting down Backpage and sites like it disproportionately affects more marginalized sex workers, who have no safety net to fall back on. It forced the most vulnerable into more dangerous situations, including pushing some autonomous sex workers to the very pimps these policies are supposed to save them from.

Raquel Risley, a 29-year-old transwoman, called the shutdown "savage." She'd been finding clients on Backpage, where she could talk with them first and set up a meeting somewhere safe. When Backpage closed, she was forced to the streets, where she was sexually assaulted.

Risley says losing Backpage and the other adult-classifieds sites that closed in response to SESTA/FOSTA affected women like her, but it also made it harder for police to find trafficking victims. Even Sgt. Frie, who doesn't condone Backpage, said the website gave police a place to start looking for people being trafficked.

Risley thinks the key to helping victims and sex workers who want something different but lack options is offering more resources and safe spaces rather than funding law enforcement tactics that arrest sex workers and Johns.

"We could think that the police had our back and actually protect us like they're supposed to," she said. "The money that they're using to arrest us, they could use to help us."

Local activist and former sex worker Juliana Piccillo says stings scare Johns and make them resistant to being screened by sex workers. If a sex worker has fewer clients calling, they're more likely to cut corners on safety or not screen at all. Also, with online advertising, sex workers don't need pimps.

Piccillo says people are often coerced into the sex industry by poverty, addiction and mental health issues, adding that many anti-sex-trafficking measures traumatize the lives of consensual sex workers. Criminal records jeopardize much of their lives, such as housing, jobs and child custody.

"It's as coercive as any other kind of work that people have to do because they're poor," she said. "It takes millions of dollars to look for a boogie man in the bushes, when you've got men and women who need services. Give the money to them to start the lives they want to have."

Another byproduct of lumping consensual sex work with trafficking is that many sex workers are leery of trusting an organization they feel labels them as victims and disavows their profession. They also find it hard to trust CODAC because the organization works with police as part of SAATURN, and police arrest sex workers.

Much more at

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