The effects of Polaris Project in Rhode Island
The Article Big Mother is watching you: The Polaris project in Rhode Island did not mention the activism @CoyoteRI has been doing for Sex Workers in Rhode Island over the past 5 years. So let me catch you up on what has happened since 2009.
In March 2015 Bella attended an event at Brown University, to hear a speech by Katherine Chon who is the co-founder + president of Emerita Polaris Project + she is currently the senior advisor on the trafficking in persons, at the US department of Health & Human Services
In her speech, Mrs. Chon admits that Polaris Project has people calling in that “self-identify” because they want “out of the life” and Polaris Project has no direct services to offer them. Then she asks for donations and she says this has to be a community effort. It seems Mrs. Chon is really taking this out of context because they are already getting millions in annual funding. Meanwhile, they do not offer sex trafficking victims emergency shelter or create jobs that pay a living wage or offer a higher education without student loan debt. All Polaris Project does is refer these women to public shelters. Most shelters refuse to take in juvenile sex trafficking victims & they also refuse services to sex workers.
Mrs. Chon went on to say that while she was attending Brown University and she was interviewing spa workers that she had found a woman who had been trafficked into the US from China + had been forced into prostitution. Even when indoor prostitution was decriminalized, “forcing someone into prostitution” was always illegal so I do wonder why Rhode Island did not have any documented trafficking cases prior to 2009. This leaves me to believe that Mrs. Chon thinks “any women who migrates to work as a consensual adult sex worker” is the same thing as sex trafficking. Mrs. Chon bragged that until she came along no US state had trafficking laws. Yet it has always been illegal to pimp out a minor or an adult, as this is referred to as “pandering” or “promoting prostitution” and it has always been illegal to “force anyone into prostitution” and we have had federal legislation that makes it a crime to cross the line for any illegal sex act, which is called The Mann Act “White Slavery Act.
Sex workers and trafficking victims are being arrested, and their names and pictures are immediately published in the media. This can result in discrimination in housing, child custody, and banking institutes + can limit future employment.
Criminalization of consensual adult prostitution creates stigma and violence against sex workers and trafficking victims. It also creates the perfect playground for predators and corrupt cops to continue robbing, raping, beating, exploiting and murdering sex workers. Law Enforcement refers to “prostitutes” as NHI for “No Human Involved.
After Mrs. Chon’s speech, they held a Q&A that lasted about 20 minutes. When I go my turn at the microphone, I spoke for a full 5 minutes, asking several questions while not allowing Mrs. Chon to reply until I was finished.
What I said went something like this. “ Hi, I want to thank you for coming out tonight. My name is Bella Robinson and I am the executive director of the Rhode Island Chapter of Coyote. I was featured in the 2013 award-winning film “American Courtesans” as Gina Robinson. I am on the board of “The Erotic Service Providers, Legal, Education & Research Project” and I am also a member of “The Erotic Service Providers Union”
I have worked in the Sex Industry for over 30 years and I currently work as an online escort. I go on to explain what happened when we tried to report a possible trafficking victim to Polaris Project, which you can read about here
I also talked about other rescues that I have gone on. In 1 case a 22-year-old woman escaped a pimp but she did not trust law enforcement, so she refused to report it. The women told me that she still wanted to work as a sex worker and that she was just tired of this pimp taking all her earnings. This woman was a consensual adult sex worker, who was being exploited because she did not have “equal protection under the law”.
Then I explained how in most states that sex trafficking victims are required to prove that they are a victim. If the victim does not help the prosecutor get a conviction on a trafficker, then the victim is charged with prostitution. Some women are even being charged with trafficking themselves. Also, see Kenyana’s story
Then I explained that any illegal immigrant arrested for prostitution is told that if they won’t say that they were forced into prostitution that they will be immediately deported. The woman are told that if they help get a conviction on the “Spa Owner” (or whoever they want to charge with trafficking) that they will be allowed to stay in the USA. The woman are then kept in shelters for 2 to 3 years and they are not allowed to contact their families nor are they allowed access to cell phones. Two-thirds of these women are deported after they have endured all this, even though they are allowed to let up to 500 trafficking victims stay per year. These are the policies and legislation that Mrs Chon has helped create, and she is willing to continue purposely conflating sex trafficking with sex work.
Criminalizing and arresting consensual adults, does not protect victims of human trafficking. It Creates a class of people with no rights and no legal protections. It encourages violent predators to act out because they know nothing will happen to them. If we really want to help women and protect them from violence, we need to empower them.
To add insult to injury none of the trafficking NGOs provide any real services to victims. The US is funding trafficking NGOs at 686 million a year and most of the money goes to “creating awareness on sex trafficking” and the rest goes to pay their board members, many who make 6 figure salaries. I invite you to go to Guide Star and look up the tax returns of trafficking NGOs, to see their salaries and how little money is being used to create services. Then I ask, why are we spending all the money and resources “spying on, stalking and arresting consensual adult sex workers” when we could be using these funds to “create affordable housing and youth services because this would reduce the number of teenagers entering the sex industry to survive. I mention that in 2014 researchers found almost 300 people that had all entered into Survival Sex as minors because they could not access shelter and other vital services from the state or federal government. Only 6% of those interviewed felt that they had been exploited and the teens taught each other how to find clients, so rarely is there a big bad phantom pimp.
I ask Mrs. Chon why she is advocating for more raids and vice stings to arrest more women when they don’t even have anywhere to house them. Doesn’t she care if these women are unable to pay their rent and feed their kids?
After the Q&A I walked up to Mrs. Chon and shook her hand and thanked her. I say to her, “I think there are 2 things we can agree on and find common ground on. I told her we need language added to the Violence Against Women Act or VAWA putting mandatory time limits on the testing of rape kits. I explained, that we have over ½ million untested rape kits in evidence lockers in the US and that they recently tested 10,000 of them and found 100 serial rapists.
Then I told her that police officers are allowed to have sex with women and then arrest them for prostitution. Mrs. Chon tells me she didn’t know any of this.
When you say that you “rescued” someone, that statement is about empowering and aggrandizing yourself while disempowering the person you think you rescued. This because “rescuing” creates an uneven power dynamic where the “rescuer” (read:hero) has all the power in the relationship and the rescuee” (read:the helpless victim) has no agency or role in the exit of his or her abuse.
UPDATE Oct 2020 CSSJ Brown University. Katherine Chon came up to me after our presentation and started to introduce herself. I reminded her that we had met, and she went on to tell me that she only wanted the clients arrested. She didn’t seem to have any concern that she was removing the only access to money that poor women have while promoting stigma and inviting police violence.