Sex industry advocates rally outside TPD - WSFX - FOX Wilmington, NC

Sex industry advocates rally outside TPD

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Sex trade workers and advocates gathered outside Tucson Police headquarters with big signs, chanting slogans demanding their rights on Thursday afternoon.

The rally was inspired by the arrest of a transgender Arizona State University student who was arrested for prostitution.  Advocates said Monica Jones pleaded not guilty to the charge and continued to be harassed by Phoenix police, and was stopped and questioned even while walking on the street.

Chating "Monica Jones does not stand alone," many of the advocates at the rally said Jones story was familiar.  They too could relate to being stopped for flagging down a car, or walking down the street.

Tucson police said if they saw someone flagging down a car, and dressed in a certain way, it was a pre-cursor to prostitution or human trafficking type activities, so they would stop and ask the person questions.

"We might talk to them, but that does not mean they're in trouble, or we'll arrest them for that.  It's for safety reasons as well," said Lt. James Scott, with the special investigations division of the Tucson Police Department.

Advocates said the sex trade industry should be de-criminized.

"I say it's a choice. It's a valid profession and it's been around for ever", said Natalie Nguyen with the Sex Worker Outreach Program.

Cris Sardina, an advocate for sex workers said she got into the trade to help pay off her college loans, after getting a masters in social justice.

"I make my own choices. It is my body, my business.  I should have the right.  I have been fighting for my uterus since 1960," said Sardina.

Kimbery Cutter said for her it was money.

"Definitely the money at first, but also I think sex work is therapeutic.  There are plenty of people that don't have access to sex.  The disabled, the wheelchair bound.  I feel it's a very healing profession," said Cutter.

It is an age old fight.  A battle of morality that criminalizes the profession.  Police said not only was it illegal, but it was also very dangerous."

"I can tell you a large percentage of our cases and arrests there is some type of drug connection there, a lot of it is addiction," said Scott.

The advocates said not all sex workers were addicts  or victims of trafficking who worked for a pimp. Most worked online for themselves.

"We're against trafficking more than anyone," said Sardina.

Tucson police said because of budget cuts they had done away with the vice unit and delegated the "prostitution stings" of the past to officers in all departments.  While they responded to citizen complaints of prostitution when they could, their focus was on more serious types of sex crime.

"Our big concern is child prostitution, we focus most of our attention on that, hat resources we do have," said Scott.

The sex workers advocates were also against Project Raise, a program run by Ward 6 councilman Steve Kozachik's office.  During the program, officers rounded up  women off the streets, and brought them into a one stop shop location where they went to court, were offered counseling, and given access to services that would help them get housing, jobs, clothes and furniture to re-start their lives.

Kozachik said the project had offered diversion to about twenty women since it started.

Police said several women were extremely grateful to have the opportunity, while those in the sex trade said the program did not help.  They felt those services should be offered year round to all men and women in the sex trade.

"Criminalizing prostitution makes us afraid to report violence, makes us afraid to go to the police, that is where the danger comes in," said Nguyen.

Kozachik released a statement to Tucson News Now saying sex trafficking was anything but a career choice.  The women were used as commodities and subjected to commercial and psychological abuse.

He said his office would continue to offer the diversion program during Project Raise.  The next program is set to take place before the end of this summer.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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