Violence perpetrated against providers and escorts is a well-documented epidemic that has gone largely ignored by law enforcement and exploited by abolitionists. One group of savvy young people is getting press for changing the way this epidemic is addressed by putting convenient technology in the hands of entertainers on the streets.
A 2004 study on prostitutes in Colorado Springs, outside Denver, concluded, “Women engaged in prostitution face the most dangerous occupational environment in the United States.” Despite the many intelligent voices speaking out in the sex community about how to address the violence that entertainers face, they are often completely ignored. Both government agencies and anti-prostitution organizations dehumanize and dismiss advocates who are fighting to improve sex industry working conditions.
While the police are unapproachable due to fear of arrest, entrapment, or further violence, abolitionists push for criminalization that further marginalizes adult industry providers. Together, they trap the entertainers that get picked up (most likely to be people of color and trans* folks) in an endless cycle of the flawed criminal justice system, and isolate those who need assistance but fear getting caught in this defective legal mobius.
However, one group has been listening: The Keep Safe Initiative has created a viable safety alternative for street-based sex trade workers. Their goal is to create a mobile panic button that could allow providers to share life saving information if they find themselves in trouble. Using GPS and cellular technology, the panic button will send out a text message and their location coordinates to another person with just one click. It’s like Life Alert...for workin' girls (and trans*folk and boys and genderqueers)!
The Keep Safe Initiative, founded in 2012, is made up of a varied team of former escorts, women’s advocates, medical and engineering students. According to their website, the project was conceptualized by two med students, Isabel Chen and Kyle Ragins, and took off once they started working with sex-trade advocate, Vanessa Forro. The group utilized Forro’s connections to the sex industry to get feedback on their project, and after receiving lots of positive feedback, fundraising began.
Chen told The Ubyssey that there were still some logistics to be worked out:
“According to Chen, a few of the specifics are still to be decided. Once prototype devices are ordered, the three students will hold focus groups to determine which type of device is more useful. GPS-enabled pagers and watches have been considered, but they are also open to using something else entirely. Also to be decided is the recipient of these emergency messages; it could potentially be a friend, relative, community partner or the Vancouver Police Department.”
This project could revolutionize the working conditions of those in the sex industry by allowing them to reach out immediately when they need assistance, with potentially life-saving benefits. Keep Safe has also effectively done what most people trying to “save” providers fail to do: It prioritized their voices, agency, and input. Rather than addressing the issue of violence against providers by paternalistically swooping in to interfere, uninvited, Keep Safe has been working with those directly affected by this.
By considering sex industry voices and trusting entertainers to be competent, intelligent, fully functional human beings, this team is strides ahead of most other advocacy organizations claiming to help. Most importantly, this challenges a well-established precedent that suggests providers are not capable of making their own decisions or knowing their own experiences, and that is why it may very well be successful.