But because she has also been a sex worker, she says police have only ever treated her as a criminal. In the California capital, law enforcement agencies have ramped up their focus on women like Willia in recent months, sex workers and activists told the Guardian.
The result, activists say, is a risk of increased violence and suffering for the very women whom lawmakers say they are rescuing. Prosecutors hailed the stings as targeting predatory men, and 16 men were arrested for soliciting. The stings are not, however, catching traffickers, and critics say theyhave only put workers in the industry at greater risk.
A majority of the arrested women were black and Hispanic. Four of the women were only 18 or 19 years old. I literally had no rights.
Sex workers are often most vulnerable to abuse, mistreatment and arrest when they try to pick up clients in the streets. In recent years, coordinated campaigns against online platforms for the sex industry have made this the only viable option for some women.
The operators of the site were accused of money laundering and charged with using the internet to facilitate prostitution. The shutdown immediately wiped away a main source of income for sex workers while eliminating a platform that enabled them to screen clients, negotiate rates, and find work they felt was safe. Some immediately rushed outside, desperate for work. It was an emergency situation, and activists formed a Sacramento chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project Swop to organize and assist those in crisis.
The findings were alarming. With criminal records, they had few other options for work and nowhere to turn for help.
The website termination simply led them to engage in riskier business and accept lower pay. Some workers found alternative websites forbut those options were also soon erased as US officials dramatically expanded their battle against online platforms for sex work.
Democrats in California have spearheaded the fight. Then this year, Congress passed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act Fostaa bipartisan bill with the stated goal of curbing trafficking by making websites directly liable for illegal activity that occurs on their platforms.
Fosta led to the shutdown of the remaining popular websites that allowed for adult sex work, including Craigslist personals. An Associated Press investigation found that in Sacramento, there were only three street prostitution arrests during a five-month period inbut that increased to 15 this year in the same timeframe.
Monroe, who asked to use her nickname, said she was forced to do sex work by an abusive man who threatened her. But she faced a drawn-out prosecution that she said made it nearly impossible for her to escape him.
She said she had quotas to meet to pay the man pimping her and missed court dates as a result. Inone undercover officer pretending to be looking for prostitutes found Monroe on the street.
InMonroe met a potential client online who asked her to meet at his motel room in a suburb east of San Francisco. When she showed up later that evening, police were waiting to arrest her. Monroe, who was visibly pregnant at the time, said she was handcuffed behind her back and taken to jail. A single arrest can have life-altering consequences, creating obstacles to accessing jobs, housing and services.
Willia, who has at least five prostitution offenses on her record, said police would repeatedly question her for simply walking down Stockton Boulevard, a street where sex work and arrests are common. Willia said police never cared when she was a victim of violence from clients or pimps and never offered support.
On a recent afternoon at a Swop house in Sacramento, Willia and DiAngelo were both in tears recounting police harassment and the lasting anxiety it created for them. They described a nightmarish process.
DiAngelo eventually helped Monroe get charges dismissed this year by convincing prosecutors that she was a victim. This is what our society does. But he refused to say whether the office would pursue charges against the 25 women recently arrested.
I need some help. Abused then arrested: inside California's crackdown on sex work. Sam Levin in Sacramento.
Wed 28 Nov Willia is a survivor of abuse and sexual exploitation. Sex workers fear violence as US cracks down on online : 'Girls will die'.
. Scrubbed clean: why a certain kind of sex is vanishing from the internet. Topics California Sex work Sex trafficking features.
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