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Project ROSE: A Phoenix city program that arrests sex workers to try and “save” them

This is worse than it sounds. Let’s see how bad it gets.

Project ROSE is a Phoenix city programme that arrests sex workers in the name of saving them.

Hoo-boy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While this is terrible, don’t go all Internet Tough Guy and call for Arizona to be taken over or something.

Be pissed folks, but be rational.

Be pissed folks, but be rational.

Onto what goes on in Project ROSE. And it’s not pretty.

In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online. They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion programme to those who qualified. Those who did not may face months or years in jail.

In the Bethany Bible Church, those arrested were not allowed to speak to lawyers. Despite the handcuffs, they were not officially “arrested” at all.

In law enforcement, language goes through the looking glass. Lieutenant James Gallagher, the former head of the Phoenix Vice Department, told me that Project ROSE raids were “programmes.” The arrests were “contact.” And the sex workers who told Al Jazeera that they had been kidnapped in those windowless church rooms – they were “lawfully detained.”

Even to the legally-untrained eye, this probably seems blatantly illegal.

Well, that’s because it is blatantly illegal.

Some people might note that it seems the organization is trying to weasel its way out of Miranda by not “officially” arresting the sex workers. Ramenth, one of the resident Spacebattles lawyers, explains why that’s a load of crap.

Sorry Project ROSE, Miranda does not work that way. You're still screwed.

Sorry Project ROSE, Miranda does not work that way. You’re still screwed.

But what exactly does Project ROSE do to the people it, uh, brings in?

Project ROSE offers a buffet of services, including emergency housing, detox, and counselling. All these services are available without being arrested, Jaclyn Dairman, an activist with SWOP-Phoenix, told me.

This doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, it’s mostly a nice front. Let’s hear what goes on from the inside.

Monica Jones is a student and sex-worker activist. She volunteers with battered women, works at a needle exchange, passes out condoms to sex workers, and is a member of SWOP-Phoenix (Sex Workers’ Outreach Project). She is also a trans woman of color.

On the day cops dragged Monica to Bethany Bible Church, she had posted on Backpage.com, an advertising service used by sex workers, to warn them of a coming sting. The day before, she had spoken against Project ROSE at a SWOP rally.

Monica told me she had accepted a ride home from her favourite bar the night of her arrest. Once inside the car, undercover officers handcuffed her. They were rude, she said, calling her “he” and “it” (Monica is trans, but her ID lists her as a female). They threatened to take her to jail. Like many incarcerated trans women, Monica had previously been imprisoned with men. Frightened, Monica agreed for them to take her to the church.

Well, this is sadly unsurprising. In addition, sticking someone who is legally classified as a female in the men’s section of prison is very much illegal (in addition to being ignorant and/or bigoted).

Presumably, damn near all of this was done without Monica being read her Miranda rights.

As for what happened when taken in by Project ROSE? Well, read on.

…at ROSE’s heart is DIGNITY Diversion, 36 hours of classroom time run by Catholic Charities.

Monica is a graduate of DIGNITY Diversion. Forced into this programme by another prostitution arrest, Monica sat in a classroom from 8 AM to 4 PM, without food, while vice cops described girls overdosing on heroin. Jail was held over the heads of attendees until they finished the programme, though many were going broke from their loss of sex-work income. Monica described the class as having the religious overtones of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In keeping with the programme’s Catholicism, no condoms were provided. Neither was child care.

Others have been even less fortunate than Monica.

In 2009, Marcia Powell, a sex worker serving two years for agreeing to a $20 (£12) blowjob, was left in an open cage in the maximum-security yard of Perryville Prison Complex for four hours. Guards ignored her pleas for water. Under the pitiless sun, her organs failed her. Her corpse was covered with burns.

Damn.

One might ask, how does Catholic Charities get funding for this sort of thing?

Catholic Charities’ website boasts a photo of a white girl, a tear running down her cheek. Who could resist opening their wallets before such innocence destroyed? Catholic Charities offers walking tours of the sketchy parts of town. Tender-hearted folk can gawk at sex workers. These excursions are like the slum tours beloved by Victorians. Popular enough in the 1890s to be listed in guidebooks, these tours of impoverished London neighbourhoods gave a philanthropic gloss to the thrill of mingling with the poor in brothels, bars, and boarding houses. Then and now, participants got the self-satisfaction of pity mixed with the frisson of proximity to vice.

Well, it really isn’t hard is it. Just some misinformation via select displays, and you can get perfectly well-intentioned people donating to something that hurts far more than it helps.

Urgh.

Read the rest of the article folks. Link’s at the top. Educate yourselves. Let’s stop these things from happening.

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