NEW YORK, March 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Sex trade survivors, local direct service providers, and women's rights and anti-trafficking organizations in New York City, including NOW-New York, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and New Yorkers for the Equality Model, are calling on the MTA to immediately remove the extensive display of ads promoting a "sex work pop-up" exhibit currently plastered across the city's public transit system. The ads are prominently displayed inside subway cars and at bus stops. Carried out by the MTA and Outfront Media in February, the advertising rollout was funded by the Open Society Foundations. The ads were designed by The Soze Agency, co-founded by Michael Skolnik, the former political director to Russell Simmons — the American media mogul accused of sexual assault by a number of women. Outraged commuters have sent in photographs to advocates daily. The group delivered a letter to Outfront Media and the MTA with their concerns this week. They have not received a response.
According to the advocates, the ads violate the MTA's own policies to "establish uniform, reasonable, and viewpoint-neutral standards for the display of advertising" on their property. The MTA also prohibits ads that "promote unlawful or illegal goods, services, or activities … or sexually oriented business." At least one ad violates New York state law.
The term "sex work," used in the ads is politically contested. As explained in the letter to Outfront Media and the MTA, the term was coined by the sex trade and its supporters to normalize commercial sexual exploitation and hide the harms and violence perpetuated by pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers against the most vulnerable populations.
"Make no mistake — these 'Pretty in Pink' ads based on the pop-up store concept attempt to legitimize prostitution as a job like any other," said Sonia Ossorio, president of NOW-New York. "In no other 'job,' do customers take out their frustrations with violence or rape on a regular basis because they feel they bought you and have the right to do whatever they want to you. Prostitution is dangerous. It's illegal and shouldn't be advertised to the masses. We recognize the harms of advertising cigarettes and guns, which are ads the MTA would not accept. Advertising prostitution to children in the New York City public transit system is equally vile and irresponsible."
Open Society Foundations, the funder of the exhibit and the ad campaign, has a known and longstanding history of financing efforts that promote the full decriminalization or legalization of prostitution globally, including sex buying, brothel owning, pimping and sex tourism. Their website and other public information clearly indicate their position.
When a state decriminalizes all aspects of prostitution, it effectively renders the ownership and management of commercial sex establishments (brothels, illicit massage parlors, escort services), sex-buying, advancing prostitution (pimping) and other third-party exploiters legal by removing criminal penalties for those activities.
"Under the pretense that these 'pop-ups' are community gatherings for people surviving in the sex trade, the MTA and the City of New York should know that they will likely also offer opportunities for indoctrination and recruitment by exploiters," said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women. "Curious teens riding the MTA and seeing these ads may check them out, as will sex buyers and those who profit from sexual exploitation."
The organizations that signed the letter to Outfront Media and the MTA all advocate for laws to end the criminalization, arrests and incarceration of people in prostitution, and for funding of and access to comprehensive services for them. However, as they outlined in their letter, they "firmly believe it is critical for New York to hold accountable those who harm, namely sex buyers, pimps, brothel owners and other exploiters in the sex trade."
"I feel targeted by these ads, and not only me, they target my community — immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ+ populations," said Cristián Eduardo, a sex trafficking and sex trade survivor who sits on the survivor committee of New Yorkers for the Equality Model. "These ads were designed to romanticize prostitution and were created with the assumption that people bought and sold in the sex trade are there by free choice, without any of the psychological, physical and emotional harms inflicted. I can testify that prostitution thrives on an ecosystem fueled by sexual exploitation. Given the horrors I experienced when my body was used as a commodity, every time I see these ads I feel hurt, disrespected and silenced."
The National Organization for Women New York (NOW-New York) advocates for women and girls across our state by working to defend reproductive rights, fight economic inequality, and end discrimination and violence against women.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) is one of the oldest non-governmental organizations working to end human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and girls worldwide. Rooted in women's rights and human rights principles, we advocate for strong laws and policies, raise public awareness, and support survivor leadership. Our offices in Latin America and the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific engage in advocacy, education and prevention programs, and services for victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation regionally.
New Yorkers for the Equality Model is a is a New York-based survivor-led alliance of advocates, prostitution and sex trafficking survivors, and cross-sector organizational partners seeking to implement the Equality Model, decriminalizing only individuals in prostitution, in New York State.
SOURCE Coalition Against Trafficking in Women