Despite the claims of reformers like Judge Lippman, HTICs are as controlling as any other court. Prostitutes might be called victims, but they're still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages. The only difference is that they're now in a system that doesn't distinguish between workers and trafficked people. To the courts, anyone who's been arrested for sex work is raw material, incapable of making his or her own choices. Those like Love, who did sex work out of financial necessity, before leaving of her own volition, might as well not exist.
Prostitutes might be called victims, but they're still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages.
Courts do not provide emergency housing—something anyone escaping a trafficker would presumably need. There are only the same shelters that house battered women and the homeless. Nor do courts offer monetary support, or even protection from a trafficker.In the Bronx I saw one trans Latina, arrested on misdemeanor drug charges, who had been referred to sex-trafficking court because of previous prostitution convictions. She'd already done extensive services for substance abuse, which saved her from homelessness. Despite this, the DA insisted she plead guilty to a misdemeanor to resolve the case—the same bargain he'd offer if she hadn't done any services at all.One sex worker told me: "I don't want to go to jail. I just want to get this over with. I don't want to stand here being humiliated."But Mogulescu insisted that the courts wear down clients who maintain their innocence, by adjourning for months on end. Eventually, clients take the court-mandated services out of frustration.
One sex worker told me: "I don't want to go to jail. I just want to get this over with. I don't want to stand here being humiliated."
And that's if they're lucky enough to be free.If a defendant has previous drug charges, she may spend weeks in jail, waiting for an overburdened agency to "evaluate" her. Though she's being held on prostitution charges, to get services DAs often recommend months in an inpatient drug-treatment program that differs little from prison.
Police depositions contain blank spaces to describe a woman's clothing. Police arrested one woman for pairing a peacoat with jeans that "outlined her legs." If they can't find a scantily clad woman, they invent one. Cops arrested one of Modzeleski's clients on claims she was waving while wearing a low-cut top and miniskirt. But the woman's attorney found her in a jacket and pants at her arraignment. The case was dismissed after the attorney presented photos, but the cop suffered no consequences for lying.Racial profiling is epidemic. African Americans make up 94 percent of those in Brooklyn charged with "loitering for the purposes of prostitution."Trans women of color are disproportionately profiled as prostitutes—and treated with unique cruelty during their arrests. In 2011, a trans woman named Ryhannah Combs was arrested for loitering for the purpose of prostitution while running errands. An officer lied on the report to say she was carrying nine condoms even though she was carrying none. Rather than putting her in a cell, police chained her to a wall near an elevator for "an extended period of time." Combs later settled a lawsuit with the city.In the back of the Brooklyn courtroom, a group of trans women of color, obviously friends, sat together. One woman wore her hair coiffed like Jayne Mansfield's. She curled a string of pearls around one finger, saying that, because of fear of arrest, she doesn't even go outside alone.
Racial profiling is epidemic. African Americans make up 94 percent of those in Brooklyn charged with "loitering for the purposes of prostitution."
Both Lee and Kluger support Sweden's "Nordic model," which criminalizes clients and managers but not sex workers themselves. Its goal is to "end demand." Swedish sex workers condemn the Nordic model as deeply stigmatizing. Sex workers' landlords, drivers, and even fellow sex workers risk being charged with pimping. Fewer clients means poorer workers, who are less able to negotiate for their safety.This wouldn't give anti-trafficking advocates pause.Kluger told me that sex work is inherently degrading—not something anyone could freely choose. She doesn't buy the articles whose writers say they paid for college by working as escorts. She claims sex workers have sex with 30 people a day and calls Amsterdam's red-light district the "saddest sight [she's] ever seen."
Women I spoke with described these social workers as kind and helpful. But the services they provide are available without having to go through the trauma of arrest.
The 19th century saw the rise of a pious, middle-class feminism, devoted to the moral uplift of the poor. By ministering to prostitutes, middle-class women got both respectable jobs and the frisson of proximity to vice. But as Northwestern University professor Ellen Carol DuBois has written:
In the name of helping women, the anti-trafficking movement has endorsed surveillance.
Those reformers are the grandmothers of today's anti-trafficking movement. But the pity many anti-trafficking advocates feel for sex workers is not conducive to respect. Sex workers and trafficked people remain projects, not equals—to be forced into help they didn't ask for by the threat of police violence. Their hearts ache for these women. They won't listen to them speak.In the name of helping women, the anti-trafficking movement has endorsed surveillance. They've shuttered websites where sex workers advertise or organize. They support brothel raids, police, and NGOs that have chucked overseas prostitutes into sweatshops. They have created a false dichotomy: weeping victims and the rare "Happy Hookers" who pair their white privilege with Louboutins.They have denied the existence of women like Love.When Love heard the not-guilty verdict, she waited until she'd left the courtroom to fall into her lawyer's arms.When I met Love the next week, in a Bronx diner with her lawyers, the pain of the trial had faded from her face. In a bright red dress and rhinestone-studded necktie, she looked strong and rested, ready to start her internship as a surgical technician."Almost everyone who is charged with prostitution enters a plea bargain, but you chose to fight the charge. Why?" I asked Love."Because it wasn't… not this time. Nuh-uh," she said, pausing."When will prostitution be legal?" Love asked, sipping the last of her soda. "These are petty crimes. It's a waste of taxpayers' money. It's a waste of manpower. It's just a freaking waste."For more on sex work, check out the infographic "Fuckonomics: Sex Work by the Numbers" by Haisam Hussein, which also appears in the January issue of VICE.
The catch was that the prostitutes had to agree that they were victims. The "white slavery" interpretation of prostitution—that prostitutes had been forced into the business—allowed feminists to see themselves as rescuers of slaves. But if the prostitutes were not contrite… they lost their claim to the aid and sympathy of the reformers.