Sexual Assault Awareness Month
My name is Jes Scheinpflug and I’m a nonbinary queer community organizer with Gay Liberation Network, a LGBTQ group that organizes at many intersections. I use they/them pronouns. If you’ve been to a protest in Chicago, you’ve likely seen one of our co-founders, Andy Thayer, hanging from a pole videotaping or pushing the sound system down the street on wheels.
As Lamon [event organizer] mentioned on Facebook live earlier today, sexual violence doesn’t happen to just women but also children, men and the whole spectrum of gender that exists in my beautiful community that includes nonbinary and genderfluid people like me.
As a community, LGBTQ people face higher rates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization, which put us at greater risk for sexual assault. We also face higher rates of hate-motivated violence, which can often take the form of sexual assault.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Nearly half (48 percent) of bisexual women who are rape survivors experienced their first rape between ages 11 and 17. The numbers are even higher among LGBTQ people of color.
Oftentimes the most marginalized are the most ignored. Within the LGBTQ community, LGBs – lesbian, gay and bi people – sometimes ignore the T – transgender people. Some folks who say #BlackLivesMatter don’t include black lives who are not heterosexual or cisgender – those who identify with the sex the doctor assigned them at birth.
I am standing here today in support of every single person who is a survivor of sexual assault.
I stand in solidarity with sex workers, most of whom abhor being called by their alleged “crime” – prostitution. Some of us know all too well that those who criminalize people are the ones doing the most heinous acts. A 2002 study found that 30% of exotic dancers and 24% of street-based sex workers who had been raped identified a police officer as the rapist. Approximately 20% of other acts of sexual violence reported by study participants were committed by the police.
Also, one does not protect a person by criminalizing them, which should be an obvious thing. One does not “protect” a person by criminalizing them - be they undocumented, Black and/or sex workers. And we all know that just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it’s immoral or vice-versa; see: slavery, women voting, etc.
According to Amnesty International, one Native transgender woman involved in sex work told researchers "every night I'm taken into an alley and given the choice between having sex or going to jail." Amnesty researchers stated that her experience was representative of that of many sex workers they spoke with.
An advocate for LGBTQ youth in Chicago told Amnesty that "the vast majority of young people she works with have been asked to perform sexual acts on police officers, sometimes on duty and other times not, who suspect they are involved in sex work."
As outlined in survivorsagainstsesta.org - what contributes to (and exacerbates) this economic disparity is the discrimination in traditional employment and social services. Ninety percent of the trans community report some form of harassment, mistreatment and discrimination in the workplace. One survey found that for homeless shelters, only 30% were open to housing transgender women, while structural barriers such as identification documents with different names and gender markers can make accessing to benefits and services even harder.
I want to use this moment as an opportunity to share the reasons why this is something we should all care about and why we need to be careful of dangerously conflating sex work with sex trafficking. One is consensual and one is not.
The bill that was passed recently—a mashup of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – that has been signed not only goes against many freedoms and privacy, but has already endangered the lives of thousands of consensual workers who had a safer way of finding work, and screening their clients online, that has now been made illegal. And most of the politicians who signed onto this legislation have shown no concern for those most victimized in our society, so why should we believe that they give a damn now?
We know the statistics on poverty show that people of color, women, queer and trans folks experience discrimination and economic injustice at alarming rates. We are aware that we live in a capitalist country that puts profits over humans.
Have you seen that screenshot of the tweet going around social media about sex work vs coal miners? If you think sex workers sell their bodies, but coal miners do not, your view of labor is clouded by your moralistic view of sexuality.
The fact that the founders of Backpage (a website used like Craigslist, also that has been taken down) are being charged with “aiding and abetting prostitution” and not anything to do with sex trafficking is all the proof you need that this is about punishing consensual sex workers, not rescuing labor trafficking survivors.
Many other marginalized groups are affected. For some anonymous blog posters who identify as people with disabilities, sex work is sometimes the only job that is physically possible that will also pay for things like cancer medications and food. Many state that EVERY website that they have ever used to connect with clients has gone offline in the last two weeks.
To quote one person:
“Tens of thousands of us have just lost their jobs. Those without other resources will be forced onto the streets to live and to work in extremely dangerous conditions, by which I mean a pretty decent chance of being murdered when they go to work every day and a near guarantee of being sexually assaulted on the job regularly. Thousands of trans women, already in huge danger of being murdered just for existing and unable to get hired to do anything else, just lost access to the safety online work provided. Thousands of chronically ill and disabled people have just lost their means of survival.”
During his time at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Dean Spade reported that 80 percent of the trans women of color he worked with “had experienced police harassment or false arrest based on unfounded suspicion...”
It’s pretty simple, if we want to stand with survivors of sexual abuse, we need to advocate for our siblings who are sex workers to have autonomy over their bodies and their work, otherwise the chances they will not survive or end up in coercive or exploitative situations are very high.
Regardless of our religion, politics or other beliefs, let our solidarity show that we care about all survivors of sexual abuse.
Let’s stop blaming victims and survivors for the abuse they suffer at the hands of others.
Survivorsagainstsesta.org has a list of steps y’all can take.
Let’s address the root causes of trafficking, that includes affordable housing, living wage work, and barriers to documentation for both undocumented immigrants and trans and gender nonconforming folks.
We must invest in robust services for victims of trafficking that are trauma-informed and not contingent on law enforcement involvement.
Let’s keep fighting the unjust racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic assholes in positions of power who criminalize our existence. They are part of the same system that maintains these ridiculous disparities in access to health, education *cough Rahm Emanuel* and housing resources. This is the same fight against the system that incarcerates people of color at staggeringly disproportionate rates. This is the same fight against the 1% who make their money off the labor of the rest of us.
As we celebrate survivors and all the resilient people we are in community with, let us please celebrate everyone who is impacted by abuse, whether it be by a stranger, a partner or the state.
The people united will never be defeated.
Parts of this speech were read at this event.