ESPLERP 2017 Year End Report
In our continuing spirit of transparency and accountability, we present the Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) year end report. It was a busy year….We did a lot!
What follows is an outline of our main activities and achievements during 2017. Please do ask us if you would like more information on any item below.
In March 2015 we filed our historic lawsuit ESPLERP v Gascon [Case #16-15927] in Federal Court in Oakland arguing that Section 647b of the California Penal Code, which criminalizes prostitution (or sex work), is unconstitutional. The major events in the court case timeline during 2016 and through 2017 were as follows.
● January 15 2016: We filed a supplemental brief in District Court based on Obergefell v Hodges, the historic June 2015 Supreme Court ruling that ruled unconstitutional states’ bans on same sex marriage.
● May 23: Judge Jeffrey S White, of the District Court, issued an Order dismissing our court case.
● May 24: One day later, we filed our Notice of Appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
● October 30: We filed our original brief in the Ninth Circuit.
● November 7: 36 additional groups signed on in 4 amicus (friend of the court) briefs in support of our arguments, including some very significant civil rights and LGBT organizations, such as both Northern and Southern ACLU chapters and Lambda Legal.
● October 19 2017: The Ninth Circuit heard Oral Arguments.
○ Board member Domina Elle posted a storify collection of live tweets by @AGoadEsq (an ACLU lawyer in Los Angeles), links to articles about the hearing, other related tweets, and video of the hearing – at https://storify.com/Domina_Elle/esplerp-v-gascon-oral-arguments-commentary.
○ There is also additional commentary on the case on our Youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCh1P670bv7af17B1zzKShdg.
○ The hearing generated very positive coverage from major outlets like CBS, Fox News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the UK Independent – https://esplerp.org/media/articles/.
○ After the court hearing, we held a press conference on the court steps, then went off to a fundraiser/lunch at a local private dungeon space (!) just a few blocks from the courthouse (at Mission and 6th).
Our arguments focus on the constitutional merits of the case; that American citizens have the right to sexual privacy. Our supporting arguments come from bodies like Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, the Lancet, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law, all of which call for the decriminalization of sex work and recognize that consenting adults have the right to be free from state criminalization of their sex lives.
Stop Press: On January 17, the Ninth Circuit issued a decision dismissing our case. We and our lawyers clearly think this is a terrible ruling, but we now have 14 days to consider filing for a rehearing before a larger Ninth Circuit panel (which is known as an “en banc” hearing).
We sent out 11 press releases during 2017 and we got a really high level of mentions and/or were quoted in numerous media articles which has raised the case’s visibility at the local and national level. And it also meant that ESPLERP continued to be the go-to authority when journalists are covering sex work.
Claire Alwyne (our Board Chair) was featured in an article “Sex work in San Francisco: Navigating morality, health, and laws across the ages”. The journalist did a good job of presenting the facts, and gave Claire quite a bit of space to promote the court case.
Folsom Street Fair
ESPLERP was nominated as a “Supporting Beneficiary” for the 2017 Folsom Street Events (FSE), where we helped provide volunteers for the Up Your Alley and Folsom Street Fair events (Maxine and Reada Wong are pictured at Up Your Alley here).
On December 5 2017, we learnt that FSE had awarded us $5500 as our share of the takings. Thanks to all of the 30 awesome volunteers who stepped up and provided the labor to make this income possible.
California SB 239 reduces the criminalization for HIV status of sex workers from a felony to a misdemeanor. It had great support from our allies, like Scott Schoettes from Lambda Legal (https://www.lambdalegal.org/), the ACLU, Danny Cruz from SWOP LA, and Rick Johnson of SWOP Sacramento. And it passed into law on October 6 (https://www.aclusandiego.org/governor-signs-bill-modernizing-california-hiv-laws/). This is a great example of how progressive forces can make things happen in the legislature.
We supported California SB 784 (https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB784), which increases fines and requires restitution for “anyone who secretly records anyone without their consent or knowledge..with the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person and invade their privacy”. We would hope to see an expansion to cover our community’s issues having our images used on authorized websites / by unauthorized persons in the future.
Hawaii HB 1533 seeks to repeal the state’s primary criminalization statute. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, and is awaiting the restart of the 2018 legislative session.
Maxine and Community United for Safety and Protection (CUSP) successfully lobbied the Alaska State Legislature to introduce HB 112, which sought to extend protections for sexual assault victims by making it a criminal act for law enforcement to have sex with those who are targeted in prostitution sting operations (often justified as rescuing trafficked victims).
A draft bill in the House of Representatives proposed a change to Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), allowing an exception for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors. This is being promoted by the same people who spent years harassing Backpage. There are already sufficient state and federal laws against people who force minors into prostitution, but this bill would make web publishers and platforms accountable for third party posts – making Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat liable for anything on their site that a prosecutor decides is trafficking. This is a substantial assault on all of free speech and we should continue to oppose this trend.
We signed on to support California SB 1408, alongside a long list of organizations, including the ACLU of California, AIDS Project Los Angeles, Equality California, and the Transgender Law Center, which would permit HIV-positive individuals to donate organs and tissue to be used for transplantation in HIV-positive patients.
Our board member, Bella Robinson, helped move the New Hampshire House Bill 287, that forms a committee to study the decriminalization of prostitution. Interestingly sex workers will be on the committee! If it passes in the senate, then at the end of the year the committee will give the speaker of the house their recommendations and the speaker can bring forth a bill for a vote.
Other 2017 Activities
● Maxine met with UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy Joe Cannataci, where she briefed them about how law enforcement continues to use anti-prostitution laws and anti-trafficking laws to violate our constitutional right to privacy. Afterwards we followed up with a detailed letter referencing our 2017 Policy Agenda, with a series of specific requests – for example, that the United Nations Human Rights Council remove prostitution from the Palermo Protocol (which is allegedly about human trafficking), and that the United Nations Human Rights Council immediately adopt Amnesty International’s policy calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/pol30/4062/2016/en/).
● Sacramento visit: Board members Reada Wong and Maxine attended Californians For Equality lobbying day in Sacramento on May 12th. There were at least 150 people in attendance from all over the state representing many organizations. We specifically lobbied to pass SB 239 which would make HIV the same status as other STDs, a misdemeanor. It’s not exactly what we want, (and will get it in the end), but it will also do away with mandatory testing when folks are arrested for prostitution. We met many of the folks from groups who signed on to our brief as amicus briefs like Scott Schoettes from Lambda Legal (https://www.lambdalegal.org/) (shown here with Maxine), and many others like Danny Cruz from SWOP LA and Rick Johnson of SWOP Sac.
During 2017 we raised $47,982 from individual donors, from a series of matches primed by generous donors, and from organizations like the Craigslist Charitable Fund and the ‘Exile 6 Fetish Ball’ annual fundraising event held in Denver Colorado.
We are still catching up with the costs associated with the October 2017 hearing in the Ninth Circuit. But the court case has now run into 2018 and may very well continue beyond, so we continue to need to raise more funds.
● Contribute online at litigatetoemancipate.com
● Hit the PayPal button at http://esplerp.org
● Mail checks to ESPLERP, 2261 Market Street # 548, San Francisco, CA 94114.
We so appreciate your support – both financially and in spreading the message that our class has to have human rights. This is a bottom-up activist movement and we appreciate any feedback you might have for us. Thank you.
The Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) is a diverse community-based coalition advancing sexual privacy rights through litigation, education, and research.
Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLERP)
2261 Market St. #548, San Francisco, CA 94114