Part I: Learn what a prostitution-fighting expert told neighbors at the “Take Back 82nd Avenue” Town Hall meeting. And, find out why the evening’s second keynote speaker, a reformed prostitute, was visibly angry about a leaflet handed out at the meeting …
Justin Cutler, Montavilla Neighborhood Association vice chair welcomes neighbors to the second “Take Back 82nd Avenue” Town Hall meeting, held at the Portland Community College SE Center.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Neighbors continued their discussion about reducing prostitution along 82nd Avenue of Roses at another “Take Back 82nd Avenue” Town Hall meeting, this time held at Portland Community College SE Center, on October 7.
Speaking to about 150 citizens gathered in the college’s atrium, Montavilla Neighborhood Association Vice Chair Justin Cutler started by thanking neighbors, organization leaders, and officials, for coming to the meeting.
A two-part meeting
Cutler told the assemblage that the evening would consist of two parts: two keynote speakers, followed by breakout group discussions.
Before introducing the first speaker, Cutler quoted a passage from author Jon Winthrop, “I call upon you all to enter into community in the midst of our present peril.” He added, “I ask of you to transcend any differences that arise and look to the future hope of what 82nd Avenue could become. It is in the spirit of unity that we offer two presenters tonight.”
Anti-prostitution crusader introduced
Cutler said the first speaker, Dr. Melissa Farley, has practiced as a clinical psychologist for 40 years, consults with government, and advocates for prostituted and trafficked women.
“Dr. Farley has articulated the harms of prostitution, pornography, and trafficking, as an expert witness in forensic evaluations,” Cutler’s introduction continued. “She has been categorized as a legal expert on the affects of sexual violence against women and children, post traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, prostitution, and trafficking. She spends her time at working with the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization ‘Prostitution Research & Education’.” To see Farley’s web site, CLICK HERE.
Clinical psychologist and advocate for prostituted and trafficked women, Dr. Melissa Farley, says she decries all forms of prostitution.
Says prostitution puts all women and children at risk
“The response of the commitment to fight prostitution along 82nd Avenue is encouraging to me,” Farley began. “It is painful and frightening to know that, once there is a culture of prostitution in the community, any female is a target of pimps and johns. The most vulnerable are the poor. But once johns and pimps get a foothold in the area, all women and children are at risk.
“The safety to the women and children who are not prostituting are put at risk by those women who are pimped out or are working at dance clubs.”
Rape higher where sex-for-money is legal
Farley said studies show that municipalities that have legalized prostitution have become more dangerous places for women.
“Nevada though it could provide prostitution and increase public safety,” she said. “But Nevada’s women are raped at twice the rate in New York and three times the rate of Los Angeles. The reason, according to the Rape Crisis Center is that men think they can get it away [with rape in Nevada] because prostitution is legal.”
In the United Kingdom, Farley continued, where “strip clubs” have been legalized during the last four years; the number of rapes has doubled
In Amsterdam, officials closed a number of legal prostitution zones. “Legal prostitution did not reduce crime as they hoped it could. Crime has increased; women are no safer.”
Decries all forms of prostitution
Street sex for sale along 82nd Avenue is merely the “tip of the iceberg”, Farley stated. “Internet sites like CraigsList.com, and Eros.com and other ‘social networking sites’ are used by pimps to sell women for sex.”
Holding up a copy of a full-color magazine, EROTIC, Farley added, “Here in Portland, you have the premiere magazine copy of its kind. Pimps are advertising nationwide for women to ‘come work in Portland’.”
A good deal of trafficking in the sex trade, she declared, takes place at “gentlemen’s clubs” – “Plainly put, strip clubs. And, there is a greater number of strip clubs in Portland than other cities. At strip clubs johns get drunk, and sexually exploit and harass women. Prostitution takes place in back rooms – or VIP rooms as they’re called – not in neighborhoods. ‘Lap dances’ are part of the range of sexual gratification offered for sale.”
Strip club “circuits”, Farley went on, are controlled by pimps, crime families, and Mexican and Russian gangs linked to prostitution.
Dr. Farley holds up a Portland-based magazine she says promotes prostitution “off the avenue”.
Sex industry flourishes in silence, complicity
She asserted that prostitution prospers only when there is the silence of a community. “The community becomes ‘corrupt guardians’. The sex industry, the size to which it has grown in Portland, can only exist because of the complicity of businessmen, restaurant owners, politicians, and some police officials. Organized criminals who own and zone strip clubs are able to buy off zoning decision s from politicians.”
Farley said a Portland police officer told her, “Look around, you can get anything you want. Porn, lingerie modeling, nude dancing – sex is just a step further away.”
The expert said that pimps present themselves as business people who engage attorneys to check with City Hall to find out how and where they could zone clubs. “Which politicians’ campaigns are financed by strip club dollars? Think about this question.”
If one looked, Farley postulated, they’d find the same “dummy corporations” that bill john’s credit cards also contribute to politicians and political campaigns. “I’d certainly look for connections here.”
Farley said there are four approaches to dealing with prostitution:
- Criminalized – Everyone involved in prostitution is arrested. “How well is that working here?”
- Legalized – It is zoned, taxed, or tolerated. “Women are at higher risk of rape where this is the case.”
- Decriminalized – Remove all laws regarding the sex trade; including to those that apply to pimps and traffickers. “This approach doesn’t work for anyone’s benefit other than the pimps.”
- Abolished – “This is a human rights proposition that works to eliminate prostitution. It considers prostitution to be a harmful problem; and works to stop it, not ‘put a band aid’ on it. Prostitutes are decriminalized; johns and pimps are treated as felons. It is a felony in Sweden to buy and sell sex.”
Advocates for services
“There must be services to help all prostituted persons to get out,” Farley advocated. “The top 2% of prostitutes have options. The bottom 98 % does not have options – they want out, and want the support of the community to get out.”
As the economy worsens and recession deepens, prostitution will get worse, Farley warned.
“Shall we permit pimps and traffickers money to hide the sexual harassment, rape and battering of women and children?” Farley asked rhetorically. “Shall they be treated as a lower class, to service men?”
Answering her questions, she concluded, “No. No one should be sold for sex. It’s time to end the commercial sexual abuse of women and children. Please set an example for the rest of us.”
Cutler and Farley welcome self-proclaimed prostitution survivor Jeri Sundvail-Williams to the Town Hall podium.
Ex-prostitute steamed about leaflet
Cutler next introduced Jeri Sundvail-Williams, saying “She is a survivor of prostitution and has been a community activist in Portland for the last 14 years. She is currently the program manager for the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement’s Diversity and Civic Leadership projects.”
Williams wasn’t smiling as she took the podium; she appeared to be angry.
“As a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder survivor – even after 20 years, this yellow sheet, [carrying a message that] supports pimps, triggers me to this day.” Williams said, referring to a half-sheet of yellow paper distributed the meeting entitled “‘Reducing the Demand Side’ Harms Women” allegedly distributed by “The 82nd Cares Coalition”. (Excerpts follow at the end of this article.)
“It really pisses me off that I could be so upset by misinformation [the leaflet] spreads,” Williams said. “It says that prostitution is a business; that it’s OK. Well, that’s a nice philosophy. But, I’m shaking as I speak; it feels like the abuse all over again. To think that they [who brought the flyer] can sit in audience and giggle about this. I had a speech prepared, but I’ll just tell you my story instead.”
Sundvail-Williams says the leaflet distributed triggers her anger at having been prostituted.
“I am a self proclaimed prostitution survivor,” related Williams. “I just lived through it; I walked 82nd Avenue. I sold my body for money. I was ‘jumped into’ the Crips gang by ten guys.
“I did drugs eventually. I didn’t do drugs as a habit, but because I couldn’t deal with my life. I was beaten and cavity-checked by my pimp each day. I had two kids at the time who were ‘taken care of’ by my pimp’s girlfriend when I was working.
“There is nothing glamorous about it. There’s nothing glamorous about having sex with weird, filthy, disgusting men. There’s nothing glamorous about having a john steal your money, stab you in the neck, and leave you for dead. But, by the grace of God, I’m alive today.”
Escapes ‘the life’
Williams told how, when she escaped to a women’s shelter, she had difficulty “functioning as a a human being”.
“The only job I could get was in a motel. I thought to myself, ‘I used to lie on the beds, now I’m making beds’. I got my education on the streets – even though I taught at Portland State. I became an organizer for social causes.”
Sundvail-Williams says violence shouldn’t allowed in any community.
Calls for investment in people
Looking over the audience, Williams continued, “I love the neighbors here, but I still hate this street. I hate it.”
Referring to the yellow leaflet, Williams said, “This is what I lived. You cannot challenge me on this. You can’t challenge the knife what went into my neck that night. You cannot challenge that women are being forced to work on the street tonight. People and children who get trafficked are having violence done to them. No one should allow violence in their community.
“My goal is to make investment in people. We have a responsibility as neighbors to care about each other and make sure we’re safe. Elect people who will do a better job for us.”
’82nd Cares Coalition’ flyer text
“Some Portlanders are concerned about prostitution on our streets and are pushing for the strategy of ‘reducing the demand side’ of prostitution. It means that, instead of going after people engaging in prostitution to make ends meet, criminal justice system would be instructed to pursue Johns (clients) who purchase sexual services from them.
“The appeal of this approach is obvious: many people understand that women who trade sex for money do so under dire economic and personal circumstances, and feel it would be unfair to punish them for their predicament. On the other hand to people feel any sympathy toward johns: in fact, some may find it deeply satisfying emotionally to punish them severely.
“However, we must seriously consider the full implications of such policy if we are truly concerned about the women who would have to compete for declining demand for their services. We believe, that while the approach to “reduce the demand side” is far preferable to punishing the women for their poverty and lack of options, it is nonetheless harmful to the safety and health of the women who work on our streets.”
The flyer presents these arguments:
- Due to a smaller pool of customers, it would force prostitutes to perform more acts for less money.
- It would reduce their bargaining power that is forcing them to engage in less safe practices simply to stay competitive.
- It would force prostitution into less safe areas; no would be around to help them when they call for help.
- Finally, it would drive out those men who are relatively rational and sensitive to risks, while the reckless and/or impulsive types would remain.
“In short reducing the demand side is harmful to women because it diminishes their bargaining power, forcing them to do more for less money, with more dangerous Johns, in a less safe environment. We cannot criminalize our way out of the current situation — we must address the social and economic concerned with solutions that achieve social and economic justice. We can begin by finding affordable housing, child care, treatment programs on-demand (instead of many months waiting list), and education and job training programs, instead of more jail beds and police cars.”
Next: The Community Responds
Read Part 2 of this report and learn how the City’s “new” anti-prostitution measures will work, according assistant district attorneys – plus, the citizen responses from the breakout groups.
© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News