The H.E.A.T. Conference is Just Another Excuse to Police Us!
The H.E.A.T conference organizers claim that their intention is to combat the sex trafficking of children and find “solutions” to “respond” to children coerced into sex work, in order to “Stop Human Exploitation and Trafficking.” We are here to expose the blatant LIE in this claim. The official, police-sanctioned campaign to combat the commercial sex trafficking of children is nothing more than a patronizing, patriarchal guise that is being used to support intensified repression of sex workers and the further empowerment of police agencies at their expense. This conference is actually a launching pad for measures that will increase policing, such as national coordination of police surveillance and the introduction of ballot initiatives to further criminalize prostitution in California. This is yet another instance of police and the criminal justice system colluding for increased policing in places where sex work takes place, using the false pretense of “concern” for the most exploited people in society as a cover.
Ultimately, no form of work is truly consensual given the conditions of work under Capitalism. We all have to sell our labor to survive. But the conditions of sale are not equal for all of us. For some people, sex work is just a better choice, given the poverty of viable alternatives. It is only thanks to the power of religious institutions and their policing of morality that the spotlight gets shone onto those of us who labor physically in the bedroom. We reject any moral policing of our bodies.
Clearly, human trafficking is a heinous practice, but the perpetual focus on sex is uncritically sensationalist, and its shock value is exploited by anti-sex-trafficking groups present at the HEAT conference in pursuit of their own moralizing, often religious, agendas. Forced labour and human trafficking is a problem not only in the sex industry, but in all forms of work. Many people are forced to migrate, to labour clandestinely, or to engage in forms of labour they might otherwise never agree to. Often this means performing dangerous or damaging physical labor. The problem of human trafficking includes people who work in construction, hospitality, or agriculture, who also find themselves at the mercy of rings of exploitation; but the organizers of the HEAT conference are silent about these forms of forced labour.
“When the vice squad does stings, the facade that they come in like white knights, capture the pimps and free the prostitutes is a cynical far cry from the truth, including with minors. Often times when the police do stings they will first engage in sexual activity with the workers to bait them in for the arrest. This shit is common knowledge between sex workers and is some of the grounds for hatred in the industry between sex workers and the police. The police, when a sex worker has faced violence by a pimp or john and files a report is often times told that their file will not be accepted.That they have the power to use and move our bodies in any way they please is the source of this patriarchal dynamic.”
- anonymous sex worker
No doubt many participants in H.E.A.T have positive intentions, but this conference is about arrests, convictions, imprisonment, and deportation– in short, it is about refining the state’s techniques of repression, not healing victims of trafficking or empowering sex workers. H.E.A.T. will only lead to greater policing of communities; it will do little to address the conditions that cause people to engage in exploitative sex work, such as poverty, lack of access to education, no hope of a future outside of the black market, or the lack of public assistance. It will, in fact, cause harm to the very populations it targets. Some nonprofit organizations represented at H.E.A.T. provide valuable resources that are otherwise unavailable to support sex workers, such as queer friendly healthcare, but by participating in conferences aimed at collaboration with policing efforts, nonprofits become collaborators with the violent arm of the state that robs government social programs of resources and funds that instead get funneled into already over-inflated police departments and DA offices, and which feeds the metastasizing cancer of the prison-industrial complex. In this way, nonprofits end up alienating the very populations they are supposed to serve. Policing of sex work is, in itself, an act of class, race, and gender oppression.
Who’s Who in the H.E.A.T. Conference
61 official speakers are law enforcement agents, DA workers, or politicians with anti sex-worker reputations. 39 speakers are individuals or representatives of non-profits. The vast majority of these work directly with law enforcement or politicians to criminalize sex workers. Where is the voice of the sex workers?
- Linda Smith- anti-abortionist, anti-sex politician whose political history includes sponsoring a bill to illegalize sex between minors
- SAGE, which has opposed measures for sex workers’ decriminalization , and profits from sex-work-related arrests through running their “Johns Schools”
- Nancy O’Malley- Alameda County District Attorney
- Daphne Phung- Executive director of Californians against Slavery, the main proponents of an upcoming ballot measure (“CASE Act”) which criminalizes providing support to sex workers in the name of preventing sex trafficking.