Prostitute Numbers Expected to Jump During DNC

J. C. OConnell

Denver's goal to make August's Democratic National Convention eco-friendly could overshadow other important issues - such as the spike in prostitutes being imported to town to cater to the city's 35,000 guests.

Denver's goal to make August's Democratic National Convention eco-friendly could overshadow other important issues – such as the spike in prostitutes being imported to town to cater to the city's 35,000 guests.

"The amount of awareness that there is among activist communities is high. I think not a lot of (other) people have been listening," said Amanda Moon, a graduate student in international human rights at the University of Denver. "I think this DNC is trying to achieve a lot of things that have never been done before like the green movement, which is a great movement. But a lot of energy is being focused toward that, and a lot of other issues aren't being heard."

The exact number of sex workers trafficked into the city for the DNCC would be impossible to calculate.

But many metro area strip bars have already tripled their staff in preparation for the convention, said Stephanie Sharp, who has done outreach work with Denver prostitutes and works for the STD division of the Colorado Department of Public Health.

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"[The police] have a whole list of things they have to be concerned about as well, and prostitution and sex trafficking is not at the top," Moon added.

State Rep. Alice Borodkin, D-Denver, who has worked to crack down on human trafficking the last three years, said the convention could be a good opportunity to make contact with prostitutes brought into Denver, but logistically any outreach effort would be complicated.

"My personal feeling is that we need to do a lot more. I'm not 100 percent convinced that people understand what they're looking at," Borodkin said.

Sharp said ideally outreach groups will join forces to offer resources and options outside of prostitution to any trafficked-in women.

Denver 2008 Convention Host Committee spokesman Chris Lopez referred questions to Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson.

Of course the spike in sex workers and human trafficking isn't unique to Denver's August convention.

According to a February article in the Rocky Mountain News:

Officer Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles police, which hosted the DNC in 2000, said there's "definitely a spike" in prostitution during large events like political conventions.

In Denver, said police spokesman Sonny Jackson, "We're preparing to handle a variety of issues that may come up."

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper's office did not immediately return a call for comment.

Moon said the Denver Police Department is working to train officers on how to recognize workers trapped in the sex trafficking industry with the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that works to help individuals get out of the business.

But Denver, with its intersection of major highways and the Denver International Airport, is a convenient location to move sex workers through – and switching prostitutes' cities prevents them from making any ties to the community that could help them escape the business, advocates said.

Women in Denver typically enter prostitution at the age of 11 or 12, slightly younger than the national average, Sharp said.

To make matters worse, Denver is "almost completely pimp controlled" with pimps controlling almost all of the women who work as prostitutes through psychological manipulation and violence, Sharp said.

Of the 500 Denver prostitutes that Sharp has interviewed, she said only a handful worked for themselves.

Moon and Sharp gave their talk, Human Trafficking and Consumerism, Friday as part of the University of Denver's Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

Human trafficking is a $44 billion a year industry, according to event organizers.

For more information or to report a possible human trafficking situation, residents can call 1-800-455-5075.

Commentary Violence

Major League Baseball Has More Work to Do When It Comes to Domestic Violence Charges

Claire Tighe

Major League Baseball's response to charges of domestic violence against Jose Reyes is really just a step in the right direction. The league, its fans, and the media outlets covering it have work to do before there is additional cause to celebrate.

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball (MLB) team made headlines for designating their shortstop, Jose Reyes, for assignment. The designation for assignment (DFA) means he was removed from their roster, most likely so the Rockies could trade him or release him to the minors.

The decision came after an announcement from MLB in May concluding that Reyes had violated its new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Child Abuse policy. Reyes was put on leave in February while the league investigated charges that he had allegedly assaulted his wife in a Hawaii hotel the previous October. Though the charges were ultimately dropped, MLB still concluded that he had violated its policy—which allows discipline no matter a case’s legal status—based on the available police reports. Ultimately, Reyes was suspended for 52 games.

Many sports fans and media outlets are celebrating the Rockies’ decision to designate Reyes for assignment, framing it squarely as a moral response to his domestic violence suspension. As a result of the suspension, Reyes ultimately lost a total of $7.02 million for missing 30 percent of the season and is required to donate $100,000 to “charity focused on domestic violence.” Still, the team will owe Reyes $41 million despite the DFA—and that, spectators say, makes the Rockies’ actions worthy of praise. The Denver Post‘s Mark Kiszla, for example, wrote that the Rockies franchise owner, Dick Monfort, deserves a “standing ovation” for taking a “$40M stance against domestic violence” that was “not just financial.” According to Kiszla, “the franchise did right by battered women by showing zero tolerance for physical abuse.”

Yet instead of a purely moral response that deserves “a standing ovation,” the Reyes case is really more of a step in the right direction. If, as Bob Nightengale at USA Today suggested, MLB is setting a precedent by suspending Jose Reyes, the league and the media covering it have work to do before there is additional cause to celebrate.

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The league could have acted faster and given Reyes a longer, more consequential suspension to show its seriousness in responding to his violation of the policy. In fact, the New York Mets’ recent signing of Reyes, which the team explained as giving him a “second chance,” underscores just how much tolerance for reports of domestic violence truly exists in professional baseball as a whole.

The public excitement about the connection between Reyes’ domestic violence record and his sportsmanship is warranted, albeit overstated. As MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred put it, the league has taken “a firm national and international stance” on domestic violence. Reyes was only the second player to receive a suspension under the new policy, which was approved by the league in August 2015 as a result of the ongoing national conversation about intimate partner abuse in professional sports. His case was the first to be negotiated with the MLB Player’s Association; his was the harshest punishment a player had received at the time.

Even so, while the Rockies’ consideration of Reyes’ charges of domestic abuse in their decision should be appreciated, the DFA should be understood for what it really appears to be overall: based on the team’s response, it was a business decision, not an action on behalf of domestic violence survivors.

“Would we be sitting here talking about this if the domestic violence thing hadn’t happened in Hawaii? We wouldn’t. So it’s obviously part of the overall decision,” said Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich told the New York Times. After all, an incident causing a player to miss a third of the season is enough to make any team pause for consideration.But, as the Times pointed out, there are other reasons that the Rockies were ready to move on, including “never really wanting him in the first place,” the great performance of his replacement during the suspension, and the fact that the franchise had already sunk the costs of bringing Reyes onboard. By the terms of their contract, designating him for assignment was no more expensive than keeping him.

Furthermore, the handling of the Reyes case within the league and the franchise has been mostly professional, but there is still a lingering tone of undue apology toward Reyes—suggesting, again, that the treatment he has received may not be the unilateral condemnation of domestic violence that others have implied.

It begins with Reyes himself, who first apologized “to the Rockies organization, my teammates, all the fans, and most of all my family,” before retweeting Mike Cameron, a former MLB player who said that Reyes just had a “bad moment in life” and deserved forgiveness for committing physical violence against his wife.

Commissioner Manfred walked a thin line in a news conference in November just after the Hawaii incident, stating his interest in maintaining Reyes’ privacy despite the charges against him. “There’s a balance there,” he said. “On the one hand, I think our fans want to know that the case has been dealt with appropriately. On the other hand, whoever the player is, the fact that he’s a major league player doesn’t mean he has absolutely no right to privacy and or that everything in the context of a relationship or a marriage has to be public.”

While domestic violence can happen “behind closed doors,” that does not mean it is an issue of one’s personal privacy. As Bethany P. Withers has argued for the New York Times, there may not be public witnesses to abuse occurring between partners, but we should not ignore professional athletes who are charged with committing acts of domestic violence. Manfred’s comments, as well as Cameron’s, minimize Reyes’ Hawaii incident into “a lovers’ quarrel,” rather than a report of an abusive act of behavior that most likely exposes an ongoing pattern.

Rockies Franchise owner Dick Monfort’s comments were better, though not ideal. In April he told the Associated Press, “I’d like to know exactly what happened. It’s easy for us all to speculate on what happened. But really, until you really know, it’s hard. You’re dealing with a guy’s life, too.” Monfort, while expressing understandable concern for this player, sounds apologetic to Reyes, rather than the woman he was charged with abusing.

Sympathizing with Reyes in this matter, while he may be sorry for reportedly committing actions that had visible consequences, centers the experience of an abuser in a culture that silences, blames, shames, and erases survivors of domestic violence and perpetuates abusive behavior.

Much of the media, meanwhile, has taken action either to diminish Reyes’ alleged crimes or dismiss them completely. The Post‘s Kiszla, for example, was plain encouraging of Reyes, for whom he “hoped nothing but the best, if his wife had forgiven him.” His uninformed commentary shows utter lack of understanding of domestic violence and what Katherine Reyes might be experiencing in deciding to “not cooperate with the prosecutors” on the case. Fox News was similarly insensitive. At the very least, the media can provide a short explanation as to what domestic violence is and why victims may be reluctant to work with police and the criminal justice system in the first place. The “inaction, hostility, and bias” they might face, as the American Civil Liberties Union put it, is real. And their personal fear of consequences are legitimate.

Nightengale of USA Today had a particularly awful response, explicitly sympathizing with Reyes, saying “that one ugly night in Hawaii cost Reyes his pride and his job.” Except that domestic violence, a cycle of power and control, is hardly ever just “one ugly night.”

Furthermore, incidents of reported domestic violence need to be named as such. In the coverage of Reyes’ charges in Hawaii, the media failed to do so. Though ESPN reported Reyes had been arrested on abuse charges, it still said Reyes had “an argument with his wife [that] turned physical.” The Chicago Tribune labeled it as “an altercation.” The Tribune was also inaccurate in reporting that Reyes ‘choked’ his wife, when the it was actually strangulation. Technically, choking by definition is when the airway is blocked internally. Strangulation, however, is the act of blocking the passage of air through the external use of force. While the difference is subtle—in fact, the police report itself logged the action as “choking”—the ramifications are large. Describing the act as an expression of dominance signals to the public that acts of violence have perpetrators. It also gives detailed meaning to “domestic violence,” an all-encompassing phrase whose intricacies are not widely understood.

While it may seem petty to be picking over semantics, accurate framing is the difference between two partners having a disagreement and one partner committing threatening acts of violence against another in a cyclical power dynamic. It’s the difference between public acceptance of horrific behavior and public recognition of unhealthy, unacceptable relationship dynamics.

The focus on costs to Reyes and the Rockies should also be reframed. If we really want to talk big money, we should consider the exorbitant shared cost of domestic violence on all of our systems, both public and private. Domestic violence is “a serious, preventable public health problem.” The epidemic is estimated to cost $8.3 billion annually to the economy due to its effect on survivors’ physical and emotional health, as well as their workplace productivity. Because domestic violence is so widely underreported, this estimate is even a conservative one. It also does not encompass the cost to child survivors and the trauma inherited by future generations. Understanding the ridiculously high costs of domestic violence centers the long-lasting effects of an epidemic on survivors and our society as a whole, rather than the cost to a singular MLB player or team.

Wholly shifting the narrative is vital in Reyes’ case and in the cases of other players disciplined under MLB’s new policy. It is up to the public to connect the dots between all of the players and teams to understand the wide scale and scope of MLB’s domestic violence problem. The Mets’ quick re-signing of Reyes as a “second chance” to the player is a reminder of many teams’ true priorities.

Though the new MLB policy appears to be comprehensive and informed by experts, the league, the teams, and the media haven’t quite perfected their responses. With regard to MLB’s process and ultimate decision, critics are saying the league should act faster and make longer, more consequential suspensions in the future. If Commissioner Manfred is really going to give weight to charges of domestic violence, a quicker, more punitive response to charges like Reyes’ is a good way to start. There is also significant work to be done in the public relations and media responses to domestic violence in the League overall.

Five years ago, there was very little talk about domestic violence in professional sports, let alone in Major League Baseball. Almost ten years ago, it was a big joke. Until 2016, MLB had never suspended a player for domestic violence. It’s becoming clearer and clearer to the public that domestic violence pervades every arena, from professional sports to entertainment. There has been an explosion of coverage on the topic in relation to the National Football League, college campusesHollywood, theater, and the music industry. Domestic violence in Major League Baseball, in professional sports, and in our culture is a much larger problem than one suspension can solve. It’s up to us to see that domestic violence is not just the concern of a singular player, team, sport, or profession. We all have a domestic violence problem. Together we can solve it.

News Politics

Trump’s First Congressional Endorsement Goes to Candidate Opposed by Anti-Choice Groups (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice groups targeted Rep. Renee Ellmers' seat after the North Carolina representative reportedly spoke out against language in the House of Representatives' 2015 20-week abortion ban.

UPDATE, June 8, 8:35 a.m.: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) lost her campaign for re-election Tuesday night, leaving Rep. George Holding (R-NC) as the Republican candidate for the state’s 2nd congressional district. Ellmers’ loss makes her the first member of the GOP to lose their seat in Congress.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made his first congressional endorsement over the weekend, backing U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) despite anti-choice groups’ attempts to unseat the congresswoman in the state’s Tuesday primary.

“Hello, this is Donald Trump and I’m calling to personally ask you to vote for Renee Ellmers,” said Trump in a robocall released Saturday on behalf of Ellmers. “Renee was the first congresswoman to endorse me, and she really was terrific and boy, is she a fighter.”

“I need her help in Washington so we can work together to defeat ISIS, secure our border, and bring back jobsand frankly, so many other things. And Renee knows how to do it. She gets it,” continues Trump in the ad. “And together, we will make America great again.”

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Anti-choice groups targeted Ellmers’ seat after the North Carolina representative reportedly spoke out against language in the House of Representatives’ 2015 20-week abortion ban, which would have required rape victims to formally report their assault to police in order to be exempted from the law. Ellmers expressed concerns about that aspect of the measure during a closed-door meeting on the legislation, according to Politico.

Ellmers later told Bloomberg Politics that she supported a later version of the abortion ban with revised language. Overall, the congresswoman has been consistently anti-choice during her time in office.

In February, a federal district panel ordered North Carolina to redraw the state’s congressional map after it found evidence of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. The new lines shifted much of Rep. George Holding’s (R-NC) current district to Ellmers’ district, leading Holding to challenge his GOP colleague.

“We helped bring Renee Ellmers to Washington and now we want to send her home,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, told the Washington Examiner for a report published Monday. “She was exactly the type of candidate our organization exists to support, both on the campaign trail and in Congress, but she failed us.”

Ellmers’ campaign contends that the candidate has been consistently anti-choice during her time in Congress. “She never once voted against a pro-life bill,” Patrick Sebastian, senior adviser for her campaign, told Roll Call in May. “It’s absurd, honestly.”

Susan B. Anthony List’s decision to support Ellmers’ challenger, Holding, marks the first time the group has ever endorsed a man over a “pro-life woman,” reports NPR. The group is reportedly spending about $50,000 on the race, and “is sending more than 200 canvassers to knock on 12,500 doors by Tuesday and tell voters,” about Ellmers’ record on abortion, according to the Examiner

The anti-choice group has already pledged to back Trump in the presidential election, despite having spent months publicly questioning whether the candidate’s opposition to abortion was extreme enough.

National Right to Life Victory Fund, an anti-choice super PAC, also took aim at Ellmers in an email to supporters last week. “Nothing has the potential to do more damage to pro-life efforts than people who run as pro-life candidates back home in their pro-life districts and then stab the babies in the back when they come to DC and work against pro-life efforts,” asserted the super PAC, going on to note that the organization would be “working hard in the mail, on the phone, and on the internet to see that pro-life traitor Renee Ellmers is defeated and pro-life champion George Holding wins the June 7th Republican primary.”

Trump’s endorsement of Ellmers seemingly signals yet another disconnect between the Republican candidate and those who oppose abortion. As Rewire has previously reported, Trump has faced “months of criticism by Republicans and those who oppose abortion rights. Despite the GOP presidential candidate’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood and nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion, Trump has come under fire for suggesting that abortion patients should be punished for undergoing the procedure, should it become illegal.”