Why Are New York Courts Lumping in Sex Workers With the Victims of Human Trafficking?

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Red Umbrella Project executive director Audacia Ray speaking to sex-worker advocates last year.
One year ago, a coalition of New York state prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys announced a bold plan: a system of special courts to try people charged with prostitution-related offenses, one meant to help those defendants leave the sex trade by offering them counseling and assistance instead of jail time. It was dubbed the Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative. In the words of Judge A. Gail Prudenti, one of the judges involved in helping to define the court's scope, the system sprang from a desire "to intervene in the lives of trafficked human beings." Prudenti added, "While there still is an antiquated view that prostitution is a chosen profession, many individuals who end up in New York courts on prostitution charges are victims of trafficking, recruited into the commercial sex industry by force, fraud, or coercion."

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New Yorkers Still Want the Women's Equality Act. But Will It Hurt Sex Workers?

Image via Flickr user Todd Mecklem
In the last legislative session, as you might recall if you could stay awake for it, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced something seemingly everyone should have been in favor of: the Women's Equality Act (WEA), a 10-point plan to strengthen women's rights in the state. The omnibus bill, which was ultimately split into 10 individual bills, focused on everything from preventing pay and pregnancy discrimination to strengthening laws against human trafficking to protecting abortion rights. But in the end, the whole WEA failed, after a group of Democrats in the Senate sided with Republican lawmakers to block the abortion rights measure, and the Assembly and Senate couldn't agree on whether to proceed without it. The fight to pass it will be back on next session; groups like the New York Women's Equality Coalition have made it clear that isn't over, not by a long shot.

But now there's a new concern from sex workers and their advocates: in trying to prevent human trafficking, would the WEA really just hurt prostitutes? And is the anti-trafficking provision why Assembly Republicans are suddenly so enthusiastic about the bill?

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Is New York on the Verge of Ending Its Condom Bait-and-Switch?

Categories: NYPD, Prostitution

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Over 100 advocates, including public health groups, LGBTQ organizations, civil and human rights nonprofits, and former sex workers, headed to Albany yesterday to encourage lawmakers to call on the New York State Senate and Assembly to pass legislation that would stop the confiscation and use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses.

Read More: New York's Condom Bait-and-Switch

The New York City Department of Health has been giving away free condoms since 1971, and condom distribution has been a centerpiece of its public-health program since the city created its very own condom in 2007. You can get free NYC Condoms virtually anywhere in New York City (there's even an app that uses GPS technology to find the closest distribution venue), and the Department of Health reports that it distributed 35.5 million condoms last year alone. Yet, as the Voice reported last month, police officers consistently confiscate condoms -- often times those very same NYC Condoms -- and prosecutors routinely use them as evidence to justify prostitution-related charges.

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A Secret Service Scandal South of the Border

As President Obama touched down in Colombia for the Summit of Americas yesterday, where he and 33 other world leaders would meet to discuss the economies of the Western Hempishere, his Secret Service agents might have been elsewhere. 

Last night, the Washington Post received a tip from Ronald Kessler, an ex-Post reporter and expert on the shadow force. It involved a scandalous story of the shadow force's members up to no good, in which twelve of them were taken off the job and replaced with others. 

The reason: possibly hiring prostitutes.

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Woman Testifies Against Officer Accused Of Raping Her While Off-Duty; Dharun Ravi Found Guilty; St. Patty's Day Hits New York

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The woman who was allegedly raped by Michael Pena, who was an NYPD officer off-duty, in August testified against him yesterday. The 25-year-old teacher explained that Pena asked how to get to the 1 train. After she did so, he still showed her he gun, brought her to an alleyway, forced her to perform oral sex at gunpoint, and raped and sodomized her. Pena's lawyer has said that while his client did assault the woman there was no sexual penetration based on DNA evidence. [NY1, NYT]

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Picture Of Upper East Side Madam With Former NYPD Employee Surprises Law Enforcement

If the book of choice for Upper East Side mothers is the salacious Fifty Shades of Grey -- now with its very own New York Times feature -- perhaps the Upper East Side story that's grabbing headlines should be Fifty Shades of Gristina. Anna Gristina, that is, the 44-year-old madam who ran a brothel out of an apartment in that neighborhood, and, as we've previously noted, had some notable friends. And the story keeps developing. Now, attention is focused on Gristina's connections to law enforcement officials, after a red flag went up following a picture in Friday's New York Post of Gristina with a bodyguard who was a former NYPD second-grade detective. The man, Sylvan "Sly" Francis, also had worked in the Manhattan DA's office.

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Bill Would Ban Use of Condoms as Evidence of Prostitution in Court

With criticisms of stop-and-frisk practices on the rise, one piece of legislation is targeting a police practice that doesn't involve searches for drugs or weapons.

Lawmakers in Albany have sponsored a bill that would stop courts from using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution. Currently, if cops stop someone on the street that they suspect is a prostitute, search the person, and find condoms, those contraceptives can be used as evidence in criminal court that the person was in fact engaged in sex work.

Those working to stop this policy aren't just going after this practice because of what they see as a problematic argument -- that condom possession implies prostitution. The lawmakers argue that it's also a major health concern, because it discourages individuals from carrying condoms on them, which in turn promotes unsafe sex.

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Brooklyn Pimp Denied 'Expert Pimp' Status Despite Having Heard Every Song About Pimpin'

Cash, money, gavel.
Anthony McCord, a 29-year-old pimp who's on trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court for rape and robbery has been denied his request to be qualified as an "expert witness" in pimping. McCord is acting as his own lawyer and had hoped to reveal to jurors the "relationships between pimps and hookers, so they could better evaluate the case." His qualifications for expert pimp-dom, via the Daily News:

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Phoenix Temple Has Great Website, Allegedly is a Brothel [UPDATE]

UPDATE: The site referred to in our original post below, as well as in the CNN report on the Phoenix Goddess Temple, cannot be confirmed as the website of the recently investigated temple in Arizona. Please refer to this post from the Phoenix New Times for information on the arrests and investigation.

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Today's New York Post Cover Is Really Something

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What, there were no hero cops today?

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