Commentary Law and Policy

California’s Prop 35: A Misguided Ballot Initiative Targeting the Wrong People for the Wrong Reasons

Melissa Gira Grant

California voters hold the power this Election Day to decide if many thousands of people convicted of prostitution-related offenses in their state must now register as sex offenders.

California voters hold the power this Election Day to decide if many thousands of people convicted of prostitution-related offenses in their state must now register as sex offenders. These are their neighbors, their friends, their family—whether they know it or not—and many are women: trans- and cisgender women, poor and working class women, and disproportionately, they are women of color.

This attack on women already made vulnerable to violence and poverty is just one of the possible consequences of Proposition 35, a ballot initiative marketed to voters as a tough law to fight trafficking but is instead a “tough on crime” measure backed with millions of dollars from one influential donor, written by a community activist with little experience in the issue. If it passes? Advocates for survivors of trafficking, civil rights attorneys, and sex workers fear that rather than protect Californians, it will expose their communities to increased police surveillance, arrest, and the possibility of being labeled a “sex offender” for the rest of their lives.

Trafficking is a hot-button issue, where even defining what is meant by the term is contentious and deeply politicized—but at a minimum, it describes forced labor, where the force may be physical or psychological in nature. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that nearly 22 million people may be involved in forced labor worldwide, the majority of which does not involve forced labor in the sex trade. In the United States, anti-trafficking law developed over the last ten years has advanced definitions of trafficking. In addition to Federal law, states have passed their own trafficking laws, which overlap with existing laws against forced labor, child labor, minor prostitution, or prostitution in general.

A good deal of advocacy around trafficking is concerned with proposing new laws, with several organizations—such as the Polaris Project and Shared Hope International—focused on introducing copycat legislation state-after-state, focused on increasing criminal penalties associated with trafficking and moving resources to law enforcement. There is little evidence that strengthening criminal penalties and relying primarily on law enforcement are strategies to end forced labor; in fact, advocates who work with survivors of trafficking, as well as people involved in the sex trade and sex worker rights’ advocates, have documented the limitations and dangers of a “tough on crime” approach on trafficking. Still, the “tough on crime” approach has become dominant in what some anti-trafficking advocates now call “the war on trafficking.”

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Treating Those In the Sex Trade as Sex Offenders

Proposition 35 adds to this dangerous mix: the overlapping matrix of laws concerning trafficking, the increasingly common conflation of commercial sex with trafficking found in these laws, and the concerns of rights’ advocates. If passed, Prop 35 will create more severe criminal penalties for what it describes as “sexual exploitation”—a potentially far-reaching term that can include any kind of commercial sex, whether or not force, fraud or coercion was present.

Under Prop 35, anyone involved in the sex trade could potentially be viewed as being involved in trafficking, and could face all of the criminal penalties associated with this redefinition of who is involved in “trafficking,” which include fines of between $500,000 and $1 million and prison sentences ranging from five years to life. This is in addition to having to register as a sex offender, and surrender to lifelong internet monitoring: that is, turning over all of one’s “internet identifiers,” which includes “any electronic mail address, user name, screen name, or similar identifier used for the purpose of Internet forum discussions, Internet chat room discussion, instant messaging, social networking, or similar Internet communication.”

Advocates say Prop 35’s conflation of the sex trade with trafficking will not only endanger people in the sex trade, but it will also fail survivors of trafficking. “I think trafficking is very much premised on issues of forced labor – be it forced work, be it forced sexual services,” said Cindy Liou, a staff attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, which works with hundreds of survivors of human trafficking.

“Even the division between forced labor and sex work feel extraneous,” she explains. “Our forced labor cases may involve sexual assault, or we may have cases where a client isn’t forced to prostitute herself for money, but is forced to commit sexual acts for noncommercial means – [under Prop 35] that would no longer be considered ‘forced work.’ That said, to confuse prostitution with trafficking is not appropriate, they are separate crimes, and they effect people in different ways. That’s the whole point why they are different crimes.”

If passed, Proposition 35 could also require anyone in California convicted of some prostitution-related offenses as far back as 1944 to also register as a sex offender and submit to lifelong internet monitoring. This is what drove Naomi Akers, the Executive Director of St. James Infirmary, an occupational health and safety clinic run by and for sex workers in San Francisco, to come out hard against the bill. In a Facebook image that spread quickly through sex worker communities online, Akers wrote “I have a previous conviction for 647a” – that is, lewd conduct, one of several common charges brought by California law enforcement against sex workers – “when I was a prostitute on the streets and if Prop 35 passes, I will be be required to register as a sex offender.”

Through Prop 35, “it is possible that people convicted of prostitution-related offenses could be placed on the sex offender registry,” said Juhu Thukral, director of law and advocacy at The Opportunity Agenda and founder and former director of the Sex Workers’ Project.  “It is also possible that placement on the registry will be retroactive for some of these offenses.”

Historically and to this day, these charges have been used disproportionately against women in sex work (cisgender and transgender), transgender women whether or not they are sex workers, and women of color, as well as gay men and gender nonconforming people. This is a misguided and dangerous overreach in a bill ostensibly aimed at protecting many of these same people.

Thukral emphasized, “The changes to the existing law [proposed by Prop 35] are complex and not clearly well-written, so this will cause confusion. That confusion as to what properly belongs on the sex offender registry will create damage to people that will likely never be undone.”

Who’s Behind Prop 35?

The problems with Prop 35 extend beyond the language of bill. It appears on California ballots through the aggressive fundraising efforts of its lead advocate, Daphne Phung, executive director of the new non-profit Californians Against Slavery. According to Phung’s bio on the CAS website, her first exposure to the issue of trafficking came from “watching MSNBC Dateline Sex Slaves in America.” After this, though Phung had no previous experience working on the issue of trafficking and no legal expertise, she attempted to introduce a trafficking bill of her own to the California state legislature, who rejected it. Phung then retooled her bill as a ballot proposition, by which a law may be proposed directly to voters if the proposers can gather enough signatures.

This is also when Phung partnered with donor Chris Kelly, the former Chief Privacy Officer at Facebook and one-time California Attorney General candidate, who lost in the 2010 primary to current California Attorney General Kamala Harris. After a high-profile sting in which New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo claimed that Facebook did not intervene in sexually-explicit messages sent to law enforcement decoys posing as minors, Kelly took credit for Facebook’s policy shifts in the wake of these stings and ensuing public outrage, and became an advocate for tracking internet identities in sex offender registries. Kelly is now Prop 35’s lead funder, having contributed over $2.3 million primarily to pay signature collectors to get the proposition on the ballot, and through Prop 35, he is proposing the same measures to monitor sex offenders’ usage of the internet he championed—or was led to champion—at Facebook.

These measures are incredibly alarming to survivors’ advocates. “The sex offender provisions have no place in a trafficking bill,” said Liou, the attorney who works directly with trafficking survivors. “Some of the worst trafficking cases I’ve seen are not sexual and don’t include sexual offenders. It really pits our clients against one another.”

John Vanek, a retired lieutenant from the San Jose Police Department’s human trafficking task force, came into contact with Phung early in the bill’s genesis. He is now working to stop Prop 35. Vanek explained that in the beginning, “the very first draft of what is now called the CASE Act was about two-and-a-half pages long. It was just about raising sentencing standards. [Phung] believes that raising sentencing will have an impact on human trafficking.”

“I would ask,” saids Vanek, “how has higher sentencing worked for our war on drugs on California? It may cut down on recidivism when that person is in custody, but it doesn’t prevent crime. That thinking is flawed. Her thinking is flawed.”

Phung later asked Vanek to support her fundraising efforts for what became Prop 35, despite his objections to her bill. According to Vanek, Phung had “met someone who cannot fund [the] initiative, but [was] willing to host a private gathering in their home, where they would bring in the people who have the money to back this up.”

“She asked me,” said Vanek, “if I would talk about human trafficking for her at those events. I declined—I said I think it would be a conflict of interest. She said, no, you don’t have to ask for the money. I’ll ask for it. But I said no, I was still working with the police department at that time, and I also said, I think this is a flawed way to go about the business here.”

Shortly after this meeting, Chris Kelly came aboard as a funder, and this October, Prop 35 was accepted onto the California ballot.

When “Tough On Crime” Becomes “Tough on Survivors”

In addition to being troubled by the bill itself, Vanek expressed frustration with the number of law enforcement backers of Prop 35, including the San Jose Police Association. “They approved it, but they didn’t take the time to call me up and see what I think about it.” In 2006, Vanek said he helped to found the San Jose Police Department’s anti-trafficking task force, a Federally-funded task force and one of the first in the nation. Since, he’s worked as a trainer for law enforcement on human trafficking. But when it came to this bill, he said, “the culture of law enforcement is they will sign on to anything that seems tough on crime.”

It’s the tough-on-crime approach to trafficking, and the almost singular reliance of Prop 35 on law enforcement to identify and protect trafficking survivors that drives the opposition of victims’ advocates like Liou, who work directly with people who have been trafficked. “This entire bill presumes that if we increase fines and penalties, it will solve the problem.” But, said Liou, “there’s other issues at play – maybe victims feel they can’t come forward, and that there’s no system to support them.”

Based on her experience working with survivors of trafficking in New York state and evaluating and advocating for sound, human-rights-based trafficking policy, said Juhu Thukral, “the criminal justice system cannot be the place that helps people move on from traumatic experiences. It can be a place, if used properly, to seek some level of justice, but it’s not where people are going to be getting long-term support and respect for their human rights that they need.”

Respecting the needs of survivors while navigating relationships with law enforcement already presents challenges for advocates, said Liou.

“With my social service providers, we have an agreement that when law enforcement calls us to accompany them on a raid, we won’t do it. I don’t want to be associated with law enforcement. I like to collaborate with our law enforcement partners, but I make it clear at the end of the day is that we work with our clients, with survivors.”

Prop 35 further risks the relationship between survivors and those working to support them, in part because it privileges law enforcement responses over community-based responses. Advocates for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault have had to navigate a parallel power dynamic with the police, and it’s one that Liou sees explicitly in her work with trafficking survivors. “Our agency does a lot of DV work,” said Liou, “and to us, [trafficking] is very analogous to this situation. It’s an empowerment model – we work with the victim or the client to say, if you are ready to leave, we’re here to help. But now with trafficking, we’re being told we don’t think about that, it’s about swooping in to conduct a rescue mission?”

The over-reliance on police to “rescue” people who are trafficked, as well as to monitor people convicted of trafficking based on Prop 35’s over-broad definition of trafficking, has worried civil rights advocates in California, as well, with several major state groups urging voters to reject Prop 35.

Claudia Pena, the Statewide Coordinator of the California Civil Rights Commission (CCRC), a membership-based organization of 110 civil rights organizations across the state, explained that the issue of increasing criminal penalties is central to why CCRC voted to endorse a No vote on Prop 35.

“In general, we aren’t in favor of things that increase criminal penalties, because we see people of color incarcerated disproportionately. Increasingly criminal penalties will impact people of color and poor people hardest.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California have also endorsed a No vote on Prop 35, in part because “the measure requires that registrants provide online screen names and information about their Internet service providers to law enforcement – even if their convictions are very old and have nothing to do with the Internet or children.”

What’s also telling is who has declined to support Prop 35. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who has supported anti-trafficking measures in the past, and whose office is due to release a comprehensive report on human trafficking California in mid-November, has taken no official position on Prop 35. Not many reproductive rights and reproductive justice organizations have taken a stand for or against Prop 35, though in the last week, Black Women for Wellness published a No endorsement, concerned that under the bill, “young people in the sex trade who are homeless and using strategies to be safer; such as sharing space, food, and resources” could be criminalized by Prop 35, as well as “people of color,queer, immigrant, and low-income communities that are already unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system.”

Trafficking survivors’ advocates have been coming out against the bill as well, though not without challenges. For one, many of the organizations that advocates may have to rely on to help their clients may support Prop 35, which advocates who oppose the bill fear may compromise their working relationships and in turn, their clients. The SAGE Project, a San Francisco based non-profit who works with survivors of trafficking and who has historically taken a stance against prostitution, initially supported Prop 35, but rescinded their support just two weeks before the election. Liou of Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach has been very public about opposing Prop 35, and said of the climate around speaking out against it, “it’s very ‘with us and against us.’ The names I have been called —’oh, you just want to support prostitution, you support pedophiles.’ That’s the sad part of this, the vast majority of my cases are labor cases—and if you consider sex work a form of work, it’s just one industry. This distinction between sex and labor trafficking is ridiculous.”

If people did want to support trafficking survivors, there are existing laws that could make a much bigger impact than Prop 35, advocates said. In California, said Liou, “the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights—that would have been really helpful. A lot of our trafficking cases are domestic worker cases.” The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights did pass the California legislature, but was vetoed this October by Gov. Jerry Brown.

New York, the first state where a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was passed through the organizing efforts of domestic workers themselves, provides other models for laws that could support trafficking survivors. Said Thukral, “New York state was a leader on vacating convictions” – that is, removing prostitution-related convictions from the records of trafficking survivors. Along with the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, said Thukral, “these are good anti-trafficking laws.”

But by the accounts of these advocates, attorneys, and members of law enforcement, Prop 35 is not really an anti-trafficking bill—it’s an anti-sex work bill, and one with far-reaching consequences for how similar anti-sex work bills, in the guise of “fighting trafficking,” may replicate on its model across the United States.

“If this passes, we are going to see this in other states. So often, as California goes, so goes the nation,” warned Thukral. “It’s frightening. There’s a sense of emotional reaction, married to this really strong anti-sex worker rights agenda. And it’s playing on the public’s emotions.”

Analysis Human Rights

The Troubling Case of a ‘Fortunate’ Immigrant Seeking Asylum

Tina Vasquez

To her immigration attorney, Nicole Ramos, M’s case is troubling because like many of her clients, M did exactly what she was supposed to do in accordance with U.S. law. But still, her rights were trampled on.

“M” is deeply familiar with the brutal nature of the U.S. immigration system. After waiting in line for more than 30 hours at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to enter the United States from Tijuana, and being held at an immigration facility for almost two weeks, she was released from San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center on April 11.

To her immigration attorney, Nicole Ramos, M’s case is troubling because like many of her clients, M did exactly what she was supposed to do in accordance with U.S. law. But still, Ramos noted, her rights were trampled on.

M, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, is considered one of the “lucky ones” (when compared to other immigrants’ cases) for having an attorney who can advocate on her behalf. But even having an attorney couldn’t protect her from inappropriate and abusive behavior that her legal advocates say she experienced while attempting to return to the United States, where she had lived for over two and a half decades before leaving for Mexico to visit a fatally ill parent.

M’s case echoes findings in a new Human Rights Watch report about trans women in detention that suggested the U.S. immigration system often further traumatizes an already vulnerable population.

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Multiple Traumas

Though Rewire was unable to speak to M directly, her attorney explained in an interview last month that M was smuggled by traffickers into the United States from Mexico 25 years ago. As a transgender teenager, M was the victim of multiple sexual assaults, but she was able to escape her traffickers and build a life in San Diego and, eventually, in Los Angeles.

According to Ramos, M received word last year from relatives in Mexico that her mother was gravely ill and dying. Despite being undocumented and unsure of how she would return to the United States, M sold her belongings to pay for her trip to say goodbye to her mother.

M knew it would be a difficult trip, her attorney explained to Rewire, but what she didn’t anticipate was the response from her own family concerning her gender identity. M’s appearance had changed a great deal during her years in the United States, something her family and those in the local community did not respond well to. According to Ramos, M was “pretty much chased out of town.”

“It was not a safe environment for her,” Ramos, who is based in Tijuana, told Rewire. M’s family “basically disowned her, with some family members becoming physically aggressive toward her. She tried to stay at a niece’s and later at a sister’s, but M began receiving threats from men in the area who were known in the neighborhood for targeting members of the LGBTQ community, and trans women in particular.”

To escape from her relatives after an unexpectedly short visit, M left her mother’s town in the middle of the night, hiding under a blanket in a borrowed truck, according to Ramos. A family member drove her to the nearest bus station so M could take a bus to Tijuana.

While staying in Tijuana, M faced more violence and transphobia, Ramos told Rewire. She was repeatedly turned down for housing, she was verbally abused by a therapist from whom she sought treatment, and she was threatened with assault by a bus driver.

“She was in Mexico since last May and she came to me for help at the end of December because it just became too much for her,” Ramos said. “Every time she left her house, she was harassed or threatened. Her bus driver threatening her was the last straw.”

Ramos agreed to help M apply for asylum status in the United States, which would allow her to stay in the country until her claim could be fully evaluated by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, since she would potentially face persecution should she return to her country of origin.

There are two ways to request asylum: Migrants can apply within a year of being in the United States, though one in five fail to file their application within that timeframe due to language barriers or lack of legal information or resources, among other reasons. Failure to do so puts them at risk for deportation. For those outside the United States, migrants fleeing violence can present themselves at the border or a port of entry and request asylum. There are more than 300 land, air, and sea ports where people and goods can enter the country, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

However, there are many challenges to getting an asylum claim approved. For asylum seekers whose claims aren’t deemed legitimate, because for example, they can’t prove their identity, they are deported. But even if the process goes smoothly, an asylum seeker will spend an average of 111 days in a detention center. After a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer, in which they share personal details about their case and why they will be in danger if they are forced to return to their country of origin, they will be held in detention while they await their hearing in immigration court.

Parole” can be requested, allowing the asylum seeker to avoid a detention center stay, but only if they can verify their identify; if they have family or other contacts in the area; and if they can post a bond, which ranges from $1,500 to $10,000, depending on various factors.

Before accompanying her to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where M would present herself and request asylum, Ramos explained all of this to M, as she explains it to all of her clients. What Ramos couldn’t prepare M for, she said, was the verbal abuse from CBP officers and their refusal to provide M with food for more than 30 hours. Upon being presented with a letter from Ramos that detailed M’s disabilities and special needs, a CBP officer at the port told M she “wasted her money on an attorney” and that “the letter doesn’t mean shit,” Ramos explained to Rewire.

“I highlighted [in her letter] that [M] has mental health issues, cognitive disabilities; that she has a seizure disorder. She is entitled to special protections because of her mental health issues. I made all of this known, according to [CBP’s] policies, but none of that mattered,” said Ramos: M was still met with disdain and verbal abuse by CBP officers.

M’s experience at the port led Ramos to contact Mitra Ebadolahi, staff attorney of the San Diego ACLU’s Border Litigation Project, which works to “document, investigate, and litigate” human and civil rights abuses in an effort to hold CBP more accountable.

In a complaint filed by the Border Litigation Project to CBP on March 23, Ebadolahi outlined the “unprofessional and abusive comments made” by an officer to M and how officers did not offer M food for 34 hours while she waited in line for processing, something the staff attorney said is unconstitutional and a violation of CBP’s own policies.

Ebadolahi wrote that asylum seekers must wait in line to present their claims for many hours—and sometimes even days. However, a CBP supervisor had assured Ramos that “CBP officers fed individuals awaiting asylum processing three times per day.”

Ramos visited M nearly 24 hours after she had escorted her to the port of entry. She spoke to port staff again about why her client wasn’t being fed and received different responses. One officer said it was M’s own responsibility to bring food to the port. Later in the day, a CBP supervisor named Chief Knox told Ramos that CBP “was not obligated to feed people on the Mexican side,” which Ebadolahi wrote is a “nonsensical” statement “given the fact that CBP officers line up asylum seekers awaiting processing in the U.S.-controlled area of the port.”

This conflicting information indicates CBP officers are not properly trained, wrote Ebadolahi, “or worse—that there is an intentional practice of obfuscating what is required of the agency so that members of the public are confused and can’t assert their rights. Either one of those things is unacceptable.”

This is not the first time the ACLU has filed a complaint against CBP. In 2012, the ACLU Southern Border Affiliates, along with other ACLU programs, demanded a federal investigation into abuse allegations of individuals, including U.S. citizens and legal residents, by CBP agents at ports of entry along the United States-Mexico border. The complaint highlighted 11 cases in which CBP appeared to disregard the civil and human rights of individuals crossing the border in violation of the U.S. Constitution, international law, and agency guidelines. Ebadolahi told Rewire no investigation has taken place.

San Diego’s ACLU Border Litigation Project also hasn’t received a response from local CBP authorities regarding the complaint they filed on behalf of M. The organization is now working on escalating the complaint to national CBP authorities.

In a statement to Rewire post-publication, a CBP spokesperson said that the federal agency “intends to respond to the ACLU this week.” The spokesperson added: “CBP is committed to providing appropriate care for those in our custody, and takes allegations that we have not met those standards of care seriously.”

Ramos has accompanied multiple clients to the port and each time, she said, she has been shocked by the behavior of CBP officers and what appears to be either a complete lack of understanding of laws and regulations, or outright attempts to dissuade migrants from seeking asylum. Once, while helping an unaccompanied minor fleeing violence in Central America, Ramos said an officer was incredulous that the child was presenting himself as an asylum seeker, saying, “You don’t apply for asylum here.” But asylum seekers can present themselves at the border or ports of entry and request a credible fear interview.

M had her paperwork in order, had an attorney, and lawfully presented herself at the port to request asylum. Still, CBP officials violated her rights, according to her attorney.

One of the “Fortunate” Ones

After 34 hours of waiting to be processed, M was then held in San Ysidro in CBP custody for three days. While there, Ramos said M was subjected to verbal abuse from officers who mocked her transgender identity, with one officer passing her cell and saying, “What’s the story with this one,” according to M’s attorney. Eventually, M was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, where M says the trauma continued, explained Ramos.

M was held in a cell with men for 12 hours as she was processed into Otay Mesa, with one detainee staring at her aggressively for the entire 12 hours, according to her attorney. After processing, M was placed in medical isolation for reasons Ramos said she could not share out of respect for M’s privacy. Later, M was brought into the shower area with men. Though she was given her own private stall, male detainees showered nearby, Ramos said.

“She began experiencing flashbacks and felt like she was going to be raped again,” Ramos said. “She felt helpless because the officers were not taking her concerns seriously. It was incredibly traumatizing.”

Ramos’ biggest concern was that once released from medical isolation, M would be placed with men in detention.

“I made numerous pleas to ICE via email and via telephone saying this woman cannot be placed with men. She’s the survivor of multiple sexual assaults at the hands of men because she’s transgender,” Ramos told Rewire. “I literally said, ‘Please give me assurance that she will not be placed with men.’”

An employee at Otay Mesa told Ramos the facility doesn’t have a unit for transgender people, which ICE confirmed in an email statement to Rewire, so once out of isolation, if she wasn’t released from detention, M would be placed with male detainees or in “protective custody.” According to Solitary Watch, involuntary protective custody is “especially common” for LGBTQ individuals and other “at-risk prisoners who live in indefinite isolation despite having done nothing wrong.”

And yet, according to ICE’s own policies, detaining trans women with men should not be a standard practice. In July 2015, ICE released the Transgender Care Memorandum, new guidelines pertaining to transgender detainees in detention, including how officials should assign individuals to facilities based on their gender identity. But Ramos has heard from a trans woman in Otay Mesa that trans women are still detained alongside men.

“It doesn’t appear ICE’s new policies are being followed,” Ramos said. “When I called the facility and spoke with a supervisor, he explained that if [M] still has male genitalia, then she will be placed with male detainees and any special, protective custody would have to come through ICE. Trans detainees shouldn’t have to choose between going into protective custody and being on lockdown for 23 hours a day or being placed in a shark’s tank.”

Human Rights Watch’s report, Do You See How Much I’m Suffering Here?: Abuse Against Transgender Women in US Immigration Detention, sheds light on how M’s experience is not unusual for undocumented transgender immigrants. Based on 28 interviews with transgender women held or being held in U.S. immigration detention between 2011 and 2015, the report details the abuses that transgender women suffer in immigration detention and the U.S. government’s inadequate efforts to address this abuse.

According to the report, it appears as if ICE isn’t prioritizing the needs of trans women in detention despite the fact that, by its own count, there are approximately 65 transgender women in its custody on any given day.

From the report:

In early 2016, the US government appeared to move away from holding transgender women in men’s facilities and began transferring many of them to a segregated unit at the Santa Ana City Jail that exclusively houses transgender women. However, at time of writing, ICE officials were unable to state whether the agency had abandoned the practice of housing transgender women with men, and they had not announced any concrete plans to do so. Under ICE policy, immigration officials may still elect to house transgender women in men’s facilities—placing them at exceptionally high risk of sexual assault and other kinds of trauma and abuse. Others may be kept indefinitely in conditions of isolation simply because authorities cannot or will not devise any safe and humane way to keep them in detention.

Even within the segregated detention unit, trans women are not safe, according to the report. Several who were detained inside Santa Ana City Jail told Human Rights Watch that they were “regularly subjected to humiliating and abusive strip searches by male guards; have not been able to access necessary medical services, including hormone replacement therapy, or have faced harmful interruptions to or restrictions to that care; and have endured unreasonable use of solitary confinement.”

Ebadolahi told Rewire current U.S. immigration policies only subject traumatized, vulnerable asylum seekers to more trauma—and M is one of the more “fortunate” ones. After successfully passing her credible fear interview, M was released from detention on April 11.

“We’re talking about a transgender woman who is a survivor of multiple rapes, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, who has disabilities, including a seizure disorder, who has gone through a lifetime of hurt, and for who the simple act of appearing at the port of entry and applying for asylum took an enormous effort—and despite all of these things, she is considered one of the fortunate ones because she has a pro-bono lawyer working on her behalf,” Ebadolahi said.

“How M and her attorney were treated at the port of entry and … in detention, is unconstitutional, unethical, and outrageous. We shouldn’t tolerate it. This treatment serves absolutely no legitimate, government purpose and only serves to further traumatize and marginalize very vulnerable people. No one should be subject to this kind of abuse. This has to stop.”

UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include a statement from CBP’s spokesperson.

Culture & Conversation Media

‘The 1970s’: A Quirky, Scattershot Look Back at Feminism Four Decades Ago

Eleanor J. Bader

The collection captures the giddiness of the decade and the unbridled enthusiasm for creating new ways of being and doing.

Readers looking for a comprehensive history of the feminist social movements that existed four decades ago will not find it in The 1970s, a quirky, scattershot collection of 31 academic essays, poems, memoir fragments, fiction, and artwork published as the fall/winter edition of WSQ, formerly known as Women’s Studies Quarterly. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Like all anthologies, individual readers will likely find some contributions in The 1970s, edited by Shelly Eversley and Michelle Habell-Pallán, more alluring than others. Nonetheless, they will also walk away with a new or renewed respect for the foremothers of modern feminism, including the first Black woman elected to U.S. Congress, 1972 presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm; the Our Bodies, Ourselves collective; and those who organized festivals and conferences in order to strategize and socialize with other women and political thinkers.

The collection captures the giddiness of the decade and the unbridled enthusiasm for creating new ways of being and doing. As someone who came of age in the 1970s, I was reminded not only of the excesses of the period, but of the deeply felt thrill of creating spaces centered on women. The fact that many newly minted feminists, like me, truly believed that a social revolution was imminent sounds naïve today—and maybe even ridiculous—at the time it seemed not just possible but probable.

The 1970s captures this spirit, but as a non-linear collection does so in fits and starts. Instead, the anthology is divided into five thematic sections: Powerful Sisterhoods; Sex, Representation, and the Uses of the Erotic; New Sounds, New Sights; Form and Content: Popular Platforms; and Classics Revisited: The Equal Rights Amendment. Nearly every entry was written specifically for the collection, a fact that makes the anthology a modern-day look backward, full of both concrete information and the wisdom of hindsight.

In “Sex and the Me Decade: Sex and Dating Advice Literature of the 1970s,” Smith College Lecturer Anna E. Ward zeroes in on the changing ethos about sex, marriage, and gender that emerged thanks to the previous decade’s counterculture. The shifts, she writes, were initially apparent in the marital advice manuals that began circulating in the early 1960s and that directly acknowledged women as sexual beings. The impetus for this change was the public admission that unmarried people fooled around—a revelation credited to Helen Gurley Brown’s taboo-breaking 1962 bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. Until then, Ward explains, all sex guides had been written by men and were exclusively addressed to husbands and their physicians.

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As the 1970s took hold, female sexual desire was finally noted and “how-to” texts were published by both mainstream print shops and newly forming feminist presses with the explicit aim of increasing female satisfaction. Feminists took the idea of female sexual agency even further, Ward writes: demanding that sex itself be seen as a political act. After all, they argued, wasn’t sexuality impacted by the gender inequities and the power imbalances that existed within many heterosexual families? If women were considered inferior to men and naturally subservient, how could this not impact one’s sex life?

So what to do?

During the 1970s, Ward explains, the primacy of the vaginal orgasm became fodder for debate, and women began to contest the many fallacies they’d been taught. Consciousness Raising [CR] groups, as they were called, formed, and, among other things, helped women understand their bodies, including the clitoris as a pleasure site. Not surprisingly, as women opened up about their sex lives, the discussion grew to include how they had been miseducated and mistreated by men. Indeed, as anger and frustration bubbled over, so did organizing. According to Ward, “Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 and later renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves, grew out of CR sessions. In addition to the anatomy and physiology section that discussed women’s reproductive and sexual anatomy, the text devotes an entire section to sexuality. As was common at many feminist CR sessions, the text encourages women to examine their bodies, particularly their genitalia.”

A host of books, by women for women, soon emerged: Free and Female: The Sex Life of the Contemporary Woman, Woman’s Orgasm: A Guide to Sexual Satisfaction, and Sex for Women Who Want to Have Fun and Loving Relationships with Equals among them.

An even bigger shift involved the expansion of intended audience. Ward reports that ‘70s sex manuals recognized the sexualities of LGBTQ and people with disabilities, and touched upon previously ignored topics including the impact of illness, pregnancy, menopause, and aging on sexual behavior. The ways sexual abuse impacted body image and performance were also explored.

That said, Ward writes that almost all of these books were authored by straight, cis, white “experts,” who ignored the centrality of race, sexual preference, and class in the formation of sexual identity and the everyday choices that were—and still are—available to different populations. Still, she concludes that their work played a discernible role in expanding gender and sex norms throughout society, developments that prompted wider acceptance of difference overall.

Meanwhile, Canada-based writer-teacher Lise Weil’s “Beginning With O,” taken from her in-progress memoir, In Search of Pure Lust, addresses what coming out for the first time meant for her. The piece is a funny, tender, and sweet reflection on an all-women’s weekend she attended in 1977. Attentive to the over-the-top enthusiasms of the era—including an “elaborate vagina slide show presented by a tall, energetic woman with a pointer”—it beautifully captures the moment, and then some.

Like Weil, other writers move between the personal and political. In “Programas Sin Vergüenza (Shameless Programs): Mapping Chicanas in Community Radio in the 1970s”, Monica de la Torre, a PhD candidate at the University of Washington, writes about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s attempt to diversity its staffing and programming. Part of the third section of the anthology, New Sounds, New Sights, Programas Sin Vergüenza references a 1974 survey that revealed CPB to be a bastion of whiteness.

After the survey’s findings were released, the CPB attempted to bring in new voices from the Asian, Black, and Latino communities. “Chicano sound activism,” De La Torre writes, was one of the bi-products: a way to bring a diverse Chicano population into radio broadcasting. In 1979, California’s Radio KDNA became the country’s “first, full-time Spanish-language, noncommercial radio station,” De La Torre writes. Along with KBBF FM 89.1, a Santa Rosa, California station set up by farmworkers, these community-run stations helped nonprofessionals acquire the skills to create programs explicitly directed toward low-wage workers and their families.

It did not take long for women to become immersed in them, learning production and going on air to address their concerns: relationships, poverty, child-rearing, abortion and contraceptive availability, and the lack of educational and vocational opportunities open to them. “These radio programs were powerful,” De La Torre writes, “and worked to inform women and to break the silence of discussing sex, sexuality, and reproductive rights. Rather than conducting them in private spheres, Chicanas were bringing these conversations to the public airwaves, giving women the knowledge that they may not have received elsewhere.”

Sadly—frustratingly—these heady advances were not sustained; De La Torre reports that in 2014 “people of color held just over seven percent of radio licenses while women held less than seven percent of all TV and radio station licenses.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the only place where there has been backsliding. As is obvious, feminist radio programming, especially that controlled by women of color, has fallen off since its heyday in the 70s; the Equal Rights Amendment has still not passed; abortion and contraception are still not universally accepted as social benefits; and sexism, sexual violence, and misogyny are still ubiquitous.

Equally appalling, despite some progress towards egalitarian parenting, raising kids remains a largely female responsibility—and society often pushes individual mothers to concentrate on their own families rather than on the isolating structures that make their situations more difficult. Kara Van Cleaf’s “Of Woman Born to Mommy Blogged: The Journey from the Personal as Political to the Personal as Commodity,” parses contemporary motherhood by critiquing 47 “Mommy Blogs” written between 2010 and 2013. Although there are obviously exceptions, unlike Adrienne Rich’s 1976 book, Of Woman Born, Van Cleaf writes that today’s “mommy bloggers,” everyday women writing about the challenges of motherhood, “rarely connect their feelings or experiences to gendered structures of power.” Typically, she writes, “The challenges of motherhood are overwhelmingly couched as personal problems that can be overcome by readjusting one’s mind rather than, as the feminists of the 1970s asserted, by readjusting society.”

It’s a sobering insight, and it’s impossible to read the essay and not wonder how and why this happened. Indeed, the full story of how the exuberance of the 1970s was undermined by Reaganism and the New Right remains to be written. Nonetheless, as feminists and progressives of the ‘70s used to say, la lucha continua, the fight continues. So let’s go. There’s absolutely no time to waste in organizing to build a better and fairer world.

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