Community activists have organized to protest the recent arrests of 13 women in New Haven for charges of prostitution.
The Oct. 26 arrests occurred after a New Haven Police Department undercover sting, according to a NHPD press release. Community members held meetings starting early in November to draft demands and strategize methods to reach out to sex workers in New Haven. A rally originally planned for Nov. 14 was delayed until Friday after court dates for several of the women changed, according to Executive Director of Connecticut Bail Fund Brett Davidson ’16, who is helping organize Friday’s rally. New Haven residents and Yale affiliates will speak out against what they term a “violent form of state control” over women’s bodies.
“The women and men who work in the sex trade are human beings, and most of the time in New Haven and around the bigger cities they are engaged in sex work out of economic necessity,” said Beatrice Codianni, the managing editor of Re-Entry Central, a criminal justice advocacy website. “Arresting them is never going to solve the problem.”
NHPD spokesman David Hartman said more stings are being planned but did not give a timeline or more specific details on the stings.
He said the most recent sting was conducted because of an increase in resident complaints, adding that addressing prostitution is a “priority” of the NHPD as it involves other crimes including drug-dealing and the assault and battery of prostitutes.
Codianniu said that publishing photos of the 13 women online, as many media outlets did following the arrests, only serves to further shame and stigmatize the women and their families.
Though the first NHPD press release sent on Oct. 26 did not contain the women’s names or mug shots, a second, updated release sent out later that day contained all the workers’ names and photos. According to Codianni, the police had to release the photos under the Freedom of Information Act because of requests from news outlets.
“It’s cruel, almost bullying in my view,” Codianni said of the press publishing photos.
She said that the sting was a waste of taxpayer money, and that the NHPD should be focusing on more serious crimes. Codianni said community organizers are currently trying to establish contact with the arrested women, and Patricia Kane, a New Haven lawyer, said she is willing to represent the women pro bono.
One of the arrested women, who asked to be referred to by the alias “Face,” said that sex workers often need money to pay for shelter and that many struggle with drug addiction. She said she started using heroin at the age of 13.
Face, who is homeless, said New Haven’s shelters are often full. One of her options is staying at a friend’s house, but without engaging in prostitution, she cannot afford the $20-a-night fee he charges. Face emphasized that more housing and shelters are necessary in New Haven, in addition to more drug rehabilitation programs that give patrons a place to live.
“I’m embarrassed,” Face said. “I haven’t sold my body since [the arrest]. Everywhere I go people are looking at me.”
She did not know that members of the community are protesting her arrest on Friday.
Face said the NHPD did not offer her any resources after the arrest, and that instead, officers mocked the arrested women and said jail was the best thing for “all you people.”
Another arrested woman, who spoke to the News under the condition of anonymity, also had not heard about the activism spurned by her arrest. But she said she believes such undercover operations are unfair and added that “policemen themselves pick up women.”
Since the October raid, Mayor Toni Harp has expressed interest in matching apprehended women with appropriate services to help them avoid prostitution in the future, according to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer. Going forward, Harp hopes to combine law enforcement with a greater effort to make services such as substance abuse counseling and job training available to sex workers.
“We don’t provide social services, but our sincere hope is that those who have gotten into the system — these are people who have been involved in this servitude-like crime for years — will avail themselves of social services,” Hartman said. “We don’t make laws, we enforce them.”
He recognized that there has been concern from the city that the NHPD is targeting prostitutes but said officers are actually targeting the crime of prostitution, including pimps and johns. Hartman said he hopes the court understands that these women are victims, but added that the NHPD can’t “turn a blind eye to kids walking outside their houses and seeing condoms on the street.”
But Davidson said arresting sex workers is “bad policing.”
“Even if it were the case the police were justified in going after the sex industry, this is not good policing,” Davidson said. “It makes it more difficult for sex workers to find nonsex-related employment. In this specific case, these women’s mug shots are now online.”
Friday’s protest will take place in front of the New Haven City Hall on 165 Church St. at 11 a.m.