The Happy Trail

Stand With Monica: Combatting Phoenix’s Project ROSE

A page on Phoenix, Arizona’s Sex Workers Outreach Project website is asking people to sign a pledge protesting Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited), a program tied with recent laws that claim to “rescue” sex workers.

Most recently, the project has gained media attention because of the arrest and conviction of sex worker advocate and trans* woman of color Monica Jones.

The founder of Project ROSE claims that it is providing services to those illegally involved in “prostitution and sex trafficking situations,” and that it works towards harm reduction by offering workers a chance to avoid the prison system by attending diversion workshops.

The reality of the situation is quite different.

Before her trial in March, Monica Jones insisted that, “It’s not just me fighting to prove that I’m innocent, it’s me fighting against this outrageous law.”

Project ROSE takes detainees accused of involvement in sex work and promises that the charges against them will be dropped if they participate in the 36-week diversion program through Catholic Charities that encourages them to quit sex work. They are also offered mental and medical health services.

However, if the “clients” refuse to participate in or do not complete the Christian-centric “rescue” program, they face prison time based on harsh mandatory minimum sentencing requirements.

The starting point for those that wind up in the program is Phoenix Municipal Code 23-52. The open-ended language used in the law that defines “manifesting prostitution” has allowed police officers to arrest women for things as simple as waving at cars or attempting to determine whether or not a “potential patron” is a police officer.

In the case of the sting that led to Monica Jones’ arrest, undercover officers detained her because she accepted a ride from a bar. She was not participating in any illegal activity at the time.

Claims have been made that officers target low-income neighborhoods and people of color.

Jones, who is a student at Arizona State University who chooses to participate in sex work as a matter of paying off student loans, believes that she was picked out in particular because of her prior involvement in speaking out against the unfair laws that have their, “foundation in victim ideology, treating all sex workers as victims in need of help.”

The day before her initial arrest in 2013, Jones had spoken out against Project ROSE at a rally because of the way it “takes away agency and targets women in poverty.”

Jones has also adamantly argued that she was profiled for her involvement because of her identity as a trans* woman.

Her assertion that the program is dangerous for trans* individuals makes sense considering that, according to the National Center for Transgender equality, gender non-comforming people “are more likely to be on the street in part, because their circumstances, ‘often force them to work in the underground economy…They face harassment and arrest simply because they are out in public while being transgender.”

Because Jones was not actually doing anything illegal at the time of arrest and is proud to be a sex worker, she failed to show “proper remorse” for her actions and refused to participate in the diversion program.

In the months following her arrest, she was continually harassed by police officers for no reason. In March, Jones was convicted of prostitution solicitation and has been sentenced to 30 days in a men’s prison—a dangerous place for a trans* woman.

Project ROSE targets trans* individuals and puts them in harm’s way.

Rather than helping women involved in prostitution, Phoenix laws and Project ROSE work to further stigmatize those participate in sex work.

Rather than providing real assistance, the program feeds wrongfully accused workers into the criminal system. It targets impoverished women of color and confuses the division between church and state. Jones has filed an appeal and is continuing to fight for her rights with the help of the Arizona ACLU and thousands of supporters.

Check out the SWOP Phoenix petition and #StandWithMonica to see how you can get involved.