The uprisings sparked by a wave of police killings that took the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDadeModesto “Desto” ReyesRayshard Brooks and so many others have sent mayors and lawmakers scrambling for reforms, as activists lift up longstanding demands to reimagine public safety and end policing into the mainstream. While the slogans “defund” and “abolish the police” may be new to the dominant news cycle, the ideas behind them are rooted in the longstanding movement to abolish prisons developed and led by Black and Brown feminists — including sex workers.

Now, as demands for abolition rise, sex workers — particularly Black transgender women, who are most targeted by police, and also have played prominent leadership roles in sex worker activist movements — are uniquely positioned to provide insight into models of community safety and care without police.

“We learned to be each other’s backbone, to try to be safe in our community because we know we couldn’t turn to the police,” said Tamika Spellman, a sex worker rights activist and policy director at HIPS, a Washington D.C.-based harm reduction group, in an interview.

Sex workers (as well as people who use and/or sell drugs) have always known they can’t rely on police for protection because cops regularly use laws that criminalize prostitution, drug possession, and living outside to harass, coerceextort and arrest them. Research shows sexual misconduct and sexual assault is endemic among police officers in the United States. A 2017 study based on interviews with 250 women selling sex on the streets of Baltimore found that 71 percent reported “abusive” encounters with police. Police get away with it because the law is currently on their side, and their position as law enforcement officers with powerful unions almost guarantees that they will not be held accountable.

Spellman said police are notorious for extorting money from sex workers in exchange for “protection” from being arrested. However, that protection only extends to the officers who get paid off, and with others, it’s a “crapshoot.” And what about protection from abusive clients and other risks that come with working on the street?

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Sex Workers Have Never Counted on Cops. Let’s Learn From Their Safety Tactics by Mike Ludwig

June 19, 2020