Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of ‘Rescuing’ Sex Workers

There is much to be said about Vice Magazine, however Molly Crabapple is an astute observationalist of many issues, and a great illustrator. This story ties in some of the issues we have been talking about: justice system, sex work, naturalized violence, sex workers as 'always working' in the face of the law, gender, whiteness, and so on. 

January 5, 2015, by Molly Crabapple

“Once they get you, they are always going to get you,” Love* told me this November at a greasy spoon in the Bronx. “The sad thing is that nobody ever stands up there and fights them.”

Love is a 48-year-old black woman. She has high cheekbones, and her full lips smirk easily, especially when she hears something dumb. For several years, Love did sex work in Hunts Point, the Bronx red-light district made famous by the HBO documentary Hookers at the Point. Needing rent money, and sick of welfare’s bureaucracy, Love went out one night with a friend hoping to make some cash. They took precautions: Love’s friend kept an eye on her from the next block and wrote down the license-plate numbers of cars that picked her up. That night Love made $400.

Police arrested her repeatedly, but she kept working. She liked the money, and she had a daughter to support.

In 2009, however, Love was raped while working. The attack left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. With the help of social services organizations, Love quit sex work and started taking classes to become a surgical technician.

But she kept in touch with some of her Hunts Point friends, especially Sandra,* whom she considered a second mother. Then, this summer, Sandra stopped answering her phone. Fearing the worst, Love decided to track her down.

In Hunts Point, the two friends caught up, hanging out on the corner of Edgewater Road and Lafayette Avenue. When a car circled the block several times, Love assumed it was an acquaintance. She waved.

“Hop in,” the man in the car demanded. “I’ve got thirty dollars for a blowjob.”

“OK, officer, have a nice day,” Love shot back. As she walked away, the man shouted, “You must be a cop. You’re calling me a cop.”

Love forgot the man, until, as she walked back to the train station, three police officers swarmed her. They arrested Love for prostitution.

Love sat handcuffed in a sweltering, pitch-dark police van. For two hours, police drove around Hunts Point, looking for enough “bodies” to justify a trip back to Central Booking. Confused and furious, Love spent the night in a cell—missing a day of classes. The whole process took 24 hours.

The court system Love found herself in this year was supposed to be different from the one she’d dealt with during her previous prostitution arrests.

New York State’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs) are the first of their kind in the nation. Launched with great fanfare in September 2013, these courts redefined prostitutes as trafficking victims rather than criminals.

Read more here…

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