Group 49 of Amnesty International paused in its petitioning on behalf of political prisoners to talk about sex trafficking Sunday.
Group 49, the Rhode Island chapter, has broken with its parent organizations, Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking. The parent organizations in 2015 adopted a policy, in the words of Rhode Island coordinator Marcia Lieberman, “to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution.”
As guest speaker Cherie Jimenez put it at a Group 49 gathering Sunday, “If we want equality between men and women, we have to end this” organized prostitution. Although legalization is a fashionable “neo-liberal” approach, prostitution is “not an empowering experience” for girls and women, she said.
“It’s made me a little crazy and a little angry,” she confided to her audience. “Because it’s been around forever is not a basis for its continuance.” Jimenez said she has never met a sex-trade practitioner who wanted to stick with it.
Jimenez, who is in her 50s and used to be a prostitute herself, is founder and director of the EVA Center in Boston – as in Education, Vision and Advocacy – which offers peer counseling, housing and other support for women seeking to leave the commercial sex industry.
She said women who go into prostitution believe they do not have options because, in the United States, they usually are products of a public social-services system that does not do enough for them.
“We have so many flawed … systems,” she said, such as indifferent group homes that take in children from dysfunctional domestic situations but cannot overcome their behavioral problems.
“Why isn’t this a human rights violation?” she demanded to know.
After digressing to discuss sex trafficking, the 29th annual Write-a-thon resumed in the parish house of the First Unitarian Church on College Hill, with about 35 volunteers sitting at long tables hand-writing letters on behalf of at least 10 selected prisoners of conscience around the world. The letters were deposited in a glass container, to display the writers’ progress.
As usual, participants lit a large candle draped in barbed wire – the symbolic “candle of hope.”
Regarding sex trafficking, Group 49 officer Merritt Meyer, of Bristol, said decriminalization increases trafficking because it increases the market.
“It’s not just a job,” Lieberman protested.
She said various members of the group have communicated their disagreement to the parent organizations.
A second speaker, Providence police Capt. Michael E. Correia, commanding officer of the detective bureau, summarized how his department underwent a pronounced change and now goes after prostitution by treating prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.
“The victim isn’t just someone who signs a witness statement,” Correia said, but is someone deserving of help. The police do not handcuff suspected prostitutes and they introduce them to advocates like Jimenez, hoping the suspects will cooperate later in prosecutions of their pimps.
As part of the change, the police dropped the use of the word “john” as a euphemism for a prostitute’s customer.
“They’re not johns,” he declared. “That’s an antiseptic name. They’re sex buyers.”
Correia acknowledged that the revised approach is difficult to justify to higher-ups in the department because resources are often used in cases with no accompanying arrests to “clear” the cases statistically.