The Facade of “Helpful Arrest”

Victims of CSE are still being arrested, charged, and criminalized for prostitution despite being victims. Criminalizing has long lasting negative effects on an already vulnerable group of people.

Contact with the criminal justice system via means of “helpful arrest” is not beneficial.  Victims most frequently face harmful consequences as a result of arrest and incarceration.

We have to do better. There needs to be other options. The women I work with are not being aided by arrest. Instead we are placing barrier upon barrier to exiting with each arrest, arraignment, and incarceration.  We all deserve to have a access to safe and affordable housing. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to sit beside survivors advocating during appeals to not strip them of their housing voutures. Why is it ok for these survivors to have to ask for forgiveness for their victimization? Do we have sexual assault survivors sitting in hearings telling the public housing authority that they will keep the other residents safe by promising not to be raped again? Let us not forget what prostitution is, PAID RAPE.

Yet we look at victims of commercial sexual exploitation differently. “They aren’t really victims” “They choose this life” Often women remain in the “Life” because square life seems unobtainable. Imagine having multiple charges of prostitution related crimes and sitting across from a potential employer, potentially a white man of power, who represents your past purchasers and exploiters, again asking for forgiveness for your victimization. Imagine how vulnerable they feel and how revictimizing that is. Do you still think helpful arrest is helpful? I don’t and I never will.

Also we factor in that most survivors interactions with police are not viewed as helpful but rather the opposite. Regardless of age at time of arrest none of these victims are treated like victims at time of arrest or throughout interaction with the court system. It is always made very clear to them that they are criminals who are breaking the law (whether explicitly or implicitly).

Most survivors describe overwhelmingly negative experiences with law enforcement which can consist of verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, sexual harassment, and/or profiling.  Most survivors talk frequently about slurs and derogatory comments from law enforcement. 

How can we say we know that individuals involved in prostitution are victims yet still treat them like criminals? How can we honestly think this is helpful? We need a victim centered approach that law enforcement engagement, via means of arrest, just can’t and won’t deliver.

We have to do better, we have to think outside the box and find alternatives to connect survivors to services. The reality is when arrested and incarcerated they are no more receiving services in custody than they are on the block. And often times they aren’t living through the weekend upon release. 

I think that is the opposite of helpful…….