11/05/17 Lynn Paltrow

Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference #Reform17 continues, with guests Lynn Paltrow from National Advocates for Pregnant Women, and Alix Lutnick, PhD, a senior research scientist at RTI International in San Francisco and author of "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains."

Century of Lies
Sunday, November 5, 2017
Lynn Paltrow
National Advocates for Pregnant Women
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NOVEMBER 5, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: So, my name is Alix Lutnick, I'm a senior research scientist with RTI International, which is a nonprofit research group based out of San Francisco, California, and for close to two decades now, my research has focused primarily on the sex industry, be it adults or young people, people who are choosing to do it, doing it because of circumstances, or coerced into doing it.

DOUG MCVAY: I caught you on a panel earlier today. Could you -- what were -- yeah. Tell me about your panel, what you were talking about.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Sure. We were talking about, essentially, why folks in the drug policy movement need to be concerned about sex work policies and anti-trafficking policies, because what we're seeing is a lot of the problematic, harmful approaches used in the war on drugs are being used in what's now called the war on trafficking.

What that looks like is the criminalization of condoms, so if somebody provided a person who's selling sex with a condom, that could be evidence of a racketeering offense for a trafficking case. It's also enhancing sentences and convicting people because of provision of illegal substances, so if I gave somebody a controlled substance and they went on to sell sex, that could be proof of coercion and I could be charged as a trafficker.

And so, it's recognizing, you know, not only are there intersections between people who are selling sex and people who use drugs, who are obviously similar communities that we care about, but also the same problematic policy approaches that really increase harm for the community members we're concerned about.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. What kind of takeaways do you hope that people left that panel with?

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Well, one I think is that, although a lot of folks within drug policy movement want to see legalization, within the sex worker rights movement we're looking more for decriminalization, just to make sure that anybody who's selling sex has access to the same rights. Inevitably with the legalized system, there's going to be the most marginalized people excluded from that, so they'll still be at increased risk for harm.

Also, wanting people to be mindful that although none of us want to see people being exploited in the sex industry, and no one is for trafficking, embedded in a lot of anti-trafficking legislation are really problematic aspects, such as increased sentencing for provision of drugs, or the criminalization of condoms, or sex offender registries for people who are actually the ones selling sex. And so asking people to be critical consumers of legislation.

And then also to think about the ways in which, if they're working with folks who are currently using drugs or people who are in recovery, what are the ways in which they can also create space for those who are selling sex, and make sure their voices are amplified, and influencing the direction of the work.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. What are -- what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the, as far as advocacy for sex workers?

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Number one is that it's criminalized. So, the reality that if I were to sit with somebody who's selling sex, and give them tips on how to do it safely, from a harm reduction perspective, I could be guilty of pandering. So it makes it really hard to have any type of harm reduction conversation with people involved in the sex industry without putting yourself at legal risk.

But it's also the harms of criminalization in general for the people who are facing it, to end up with this revolving door, and for people who would rather not be selling sex, the best way you can get them stuck in it is to give them a criminal record.

I think the other key challenge is that although trafficking definitely is real, and people are being exploited, any time we try to talk about decriminalization of sex work, or of sex worker rights, the counter narrative is, oh, this is going to open up the door for exploiters and for traffickers and for the predation of children, and it makes it so that you don't actually get to have a conversation about the ways in which criminalization of prostitution harms people who are being trafficked as well.

DOUG MCVAY: The -- we hear a lot, I mean, there's a trafficking bill in Congress, it's -- yeah, they're getting on a high horse about all kinds of things. What's the reality?

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Oh, the reality's never that simple, is it? So, when we're talking about young people, so in the US, if you're under 18 and selling sex in any capacity, you're considered a trafficking victim. The majority -- shall we pause?

DOUG MCVAY: Let's pause while you take care of signing a book. Ah, no, no, please. Thanks.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: So we were talking about what's the reality.

DOUG MCVAY: Yes, the reality. Like I say, it -- there's a lot -- because there's a lot of hype, and it's easy for the distortions to start, and if it starts out from a distorted place in the first place, then, you know.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Then we end up with bad policies and bad programs, if it's based on misinformation. And unfortunately in an effort to get people to care about this issue, specifically when we're talking about young people's involvement in the sex trade, it is plagued with misinformation. To the point now that a lot of leading anti-trafficking effort -- activists, who have said some of these false claims, are now saying, you know, we're doing ourselves a disservice.

So the reality is, we don't know the number of young people who are trading sex. Based on research though, very few fit that narrative of a young person kidnapped and forced into it against their will. Many more are doing this to survive. They've run away from home or have been pushed out of home, and then because they're under 18 have limited means of survival and will turn to trading sex.

Or someone will notice that vulnerability and form a relationship with them, and then encourage them or coerce them. But that person's known to them. Or it's a continuation of abuse that young people were already experiencing in the home, and then one form of that abuse is then parents, guardians, other relatives, forcing them to sell sex.

With adults, there needs to be force, fraud, or coercion, so it's much harder to assess that. And then there's also trafficking in other labor sectors outside of the sex industry, which, based on reports out of the International Labor Organization, that's three and a half to four times more prevalent than exploitation in the sex industry, yet it gives very little attention.

And so, the main industries where we see people's labor being exploited in a way that fits trafficking, it's agricultural, it's hospitality, it's trucking. It's not the sex industry. But the bulk of resources are focused on the sex industry, I think because of moral, ideological, religious responses. It's like there's something about, oh, someone being forced to sell sex, whether that's actually what's happening or not, that hits us at a certain level, that we feel like we need to do something about it, and there's not that same response to concerns about the people who are picking our produce, who are growing our crops, who are cleaning our rooms at the hotels.

And so we end up with an overabundance of legislation and funding supporting people who might be exploited in the sex industry as opposed to these other industries.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Well, and it's -- media. Sex sells. Lurid sells, and that's a, whether it's politics or media, that's just a, that's just a sad, sad reality. What -- how can we do things differently?

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: So, what's needed are really well thought out, evidence-informed policies and programs. If we had that, we would not be arresting people for their involvement in prostitution. If we had that, we would change our immigration policies. There's no better way to create vulnerability for somebody than to have them moving across borders without documentation.

We would look at the macro level factors that create vulnerability instead of saying what do we do once someone's been exploited. It's how do we stop exploitation from even happening, and that requires bigger work. It requires us to deal with the historical legacy of racism. It requires us to look at poverty and homelessness, and housing options. It requires us to look at healthcare. It requires us to make sure people have the same access to all of the resources.

And so when we ask people who are involved in selling sex, be it they're there because of circumstances or coercion, what they most need, what they'll cite: viable employment options and housing. And yet those are the two things that routinely go unfunded in this -- the plethora of legislation trying to address this issue.

And so viable employment is not, here's some minimum wage job. The reality is, is even if folks weren't able to keep the money they were making, they have the experience of making a large amount of money in a short amount of time with seemingly autonomy over that. So then to go into a minimum wage job, where they have to report to somebody, where they're not making a living wage, it's like this isn't a viable alternative.

So it's really, we need to make sure a greater diversity of voices of people who have lived experiences in the sex industry are informing these, as opposed to prioritizing the narratives of people that fit a very narrow definition of what's happening.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. Do you blog, do you write, is there a -- well obviously you write. Tell me about your book.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Sure. So, beginning of 2016, my book, "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims And Villains" was published by Columbia University Press. My hope with the book is that it presents a more nuanced and complex portrayal of the experiences of young people who are trading sex, and I think the greatest compliment I've gotten about the book comes from people who have the lived experience, that say, thank you, someone has finally written something that really holds the messiness of it, the complexities of it, in a holistic way, and in a nonjudgmental sensationalizing way.

So, obviously, I've written that, you can check that out, it's pretty publicly available. You can find it on Amazon, you can also find it in your public library, or ask your public library to get it if you don't have resources to buy books. It's probably also, if you google it, someone has probably made a PDF of it so it's free out there. And then, within the world of research I publish in journals. I don't do so much blogging though.

DOUG MCVAY: Right on. So again we're speaking with Alix Lutnick. Her book, Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. We're here at the Drug Policy Alliance International Conference, where I'm interrupting her at a book signing. So, any closing thoughts for my listeners?

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Well, I'm just -- I'm really appreciative of people taking the time to try to better understand these issues, and I think, you know, similar to what we've seen with the war on drugs, where a lot of the carceral approaches have been hugely problematic, ineffective, and downright harmful to communities, we're seeing the same things happen to people who are involved in sex work.

And so, inevitably, even if your issue as a listener is, well, I'm concerned about legalization or decriminalization of drugs, it's recognizing among folks who are using are also people who are selling sex, and we want the best possible outcomes for all of our community members, and so to be mindful of that as you're developing your programs, or voting on policies, or advocating for changes.

DOUG MCVAY: Alix, thank you so much.

ALIX LUTNICK, PHD: Thanks. That was fun.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a conversation with Alix Lutnick, she's a senior research scientist at RTI International. I spoke with her at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia. You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay.

DAWN PALEY: Hey, my name's Dawn Paley, I'm the author of Drug War Capitalism, and I just want to give a shout out to the people at Drug Truth Network who are doing amazing work to get the stories out. You know, Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! talks about trickle up journalism. I'm a firm believer, you know, like, where these are being reported first, who's on the ground covering this conference and doing all these interviews? It's Doug McVay. Drug Truth Network. So, listen up and thanks again for your so-important work in terms of just getting the truth out there and getting these stories, which are just so repressed in the mainstream media, out to the broader public.

DOUG MCVAY: Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. It is a tremendous honor to talk to you, it truly is. You're brilliant, you're -- yeah. You all that. I just want to catch up and see what's happening. There's a lot of policy -- god, I talked to you a couple of years ago and asked if we were finally turning the corner on this madness of penalizing women for using drugs and the whole crack baby thing that we had gone through, and we -- how bad is it still?

LYNN PALTROW: Unfortunately, I think it's pretty terrible, and while I have found reasons to be hopeful and keep doing this work, we made some progress on using science to debunk the crack baby myth, and what that means is, it's not good to use any criminalized drug while you're pregnant, nor is good to use alcohol or smoking, but there's no specific sequence of harm, there's no predictable permanent damage, which is fabulous news.

But that narrative doesn't really fit the way the human brain works, and the human brain works, if you're doing something that people say is dangerous then you are endangering, or you must be causing harm. A more sophisticated view that pulls the lens back and looks at the whole woman's life is very hard for people to do.

So while there seemed to be some progress, and back then and now, we continue to win the majority of our cases, at least in the criminal courts. When women are being arrested in relationship to being pregnant and using a criminalized drug, we really still win the majority of cases that we are able to get involved with.

However, you now have South Carolina and Alabama, that as a result of judicial decisions, have said it's okeh to create essentially a gender based crime of drug use and pregnancy. And, whatever progress we were making, feels like much of it is being undermined by the latest drug scare, which is opioid use, and women having babies that are diagnosed with what's called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which sounds scary, it sounds like the permanent damage that extreme alcohol use can cause, fetal alcohol syndrome, but it is actually a predictable, transitory, and treatable set of symptoms that some babies who were exposed prenatally to opioids have, some babies who are exposed prenatally to methadone and buprenorphine, the treatments for opioid addiction.

And rather than sharing that knowledge, and explaining how it is that we can ensure that these babies don't suffer anything, because you're treating them well when they're born, they became the excuse for new arrests of women and a gigantic formal expansion of the use of the child welfare system to surveil not just women who give birth to babies who test positive for opioids, but for example in many states including Massachusetts, if you are a pregnant woman who gets into methadone or buprenorphine treatment, as every medical group recommends, as every pediatric group recommends, you are according to the department of health, even without the real support of the state law, says you must be reported to child welfare authorities.

And people have the mistaken idea that a report to child welfare is a report to someplace that will give you services. A report to child welfare is nothing but a report of suspected abuse and neglect, and so you are immediately investigated as somebody who has been accused of abusing your child by what? By becoming pregnant. By getting the healthcare the federal and state government recommends. And then by going to term at risk to your own life and health.

So, we face a very, very constant use of fear, drug narratives to justify ever more surveillance and control of ever more groups of pregnant women. The crack baby myth was absolutely targeted on black women. People -- that people believed that there were a group of women who would take a drug that would necessarily cause harm. Why did people believe that? They believed it because they were willing to believe myths that grew out of slavery about black women must not care about their children, that way it's -- then it makes it okeh to take their children away from them.

And that same narrative plays over and over and over again. Women are not taking drugs to hurt their babies, anymore than women who have abortions are doing it because they don't love children. It's because this pregnancy is not the one they can bring to term. They may be using drugs because it helps them to sleep at night, it helps them keep food down, because they do have a dependency problem, but the great news is, the greatest risk to children is not their own mothers.

And we're living in a moment in American history where there's a narrative of individual blame and responsibility, so that the greatest risk to children are their own mothers because they kill them through abortion, they're using drugs, or because they're the wrong mothers and should never have become pregnant in the first place, and they should have kept their legs closed.

We hear this over and over and over again, and the fear is, just as we're starting to make progress on challenging the drug war, the same argument about we should be able to use policing to protect children, to protect people, is being used more and more explicitly to argue that women who have abortions should go to jail, that women who use effective, safe medication to end pregnancy -- mifepristone, misoprostol -- should go to jail.

So are seeing this expansion of state control and punishment, both in the criminal justice system and especially the civil child welfare system. The good news is, more and more people are sort of expanding their views. They're thinking about, not only at this conference, it's been a real sea change in terms of the amount of attention that's being given to issues concerning people with the capacity of reproduction, that there is an entire child welfare breakout session, we're making progress in understanding that, in order to ever address the underlying racism and sexism of the war on drugs, we need to address all of these issues, intersectionally and with a shared commitment, because it's with all of those numbers we have the strength to eventually win.

DOUG MCVAY: You mentioned Alabama, you mentioned South Carolina, and, did you mention Massachusetts?

LYNN PALTROW: Well, you have -- what you have is, given that six million women get pregnant every year, one can think of the number of arrests as relatively small, but each one of them is representative, and terrifying. There are far more women who are subjected to the civil child welfare system than are arrested in relationship to their pregnancies.

And one, it's surprising, but Massachusetts, this progressive state, it has some -- better access to healthcare than many other states, nevertheless sees its child welfare system as protecting children from potential risk of harm, not actual harm, potential risk of harm, and doing so by subjecting women to extreme surveillance. You give birth and they do a drug test, and if it's positive you can't breastfeed. You might be reported to child welfare, and they have taken the position, the department of health, that if you are in methadone treatment, if you are receiving buprenorphine, you should be reported to child welfare.

And that, you know, you sort of lay the cognitive terrain for punishment, and then what is presented as if it's treatment, which it -- what it really is, is supervision and surveillance by a punitive child welfare system, that seems more reasonable.

And so we have to build community across people challenging the reality of a child welfare system. There are people who work in that system who are wonderful, and committed, and care, and try to make it work for the people in it. But there is no way that the child welfare system, which is based on accusations of abuse and neglect, should be the system to which we refer people who need housing, healthcare, and sometimes drug treatment, that we hope is really effective. But never should it be coming through a system in which you are selected and identified based on an allegation that you are an abusive and neglective parent for having become pregnant and gone to term.

DOUG MCVAY: It's the -- yeah, it blows the stereotypes, I mean, you know, the stereotype would be that some, maybe some of the southern states which are more conservative and more reactionary rightwing would have these things, but, yeah, Massachusetts doesn't have that kind of reputation. And yet.

LYNN PALTROW: And yet, when you look at the so-called civil child welfare system, it's not the same. Our study of arrests which we did, looking at arrests in which pregnancy was an element of the crime, and we looked between 1973 and 2005, there -- we were able to identify arrests in almost every state. There were more in the south than in the north, but they were everywhere. And that's just using the criminal justice system, or another system of detention. It might be a hospital, might be a mental institution.

But Wisconsin amended its civil child protection law almost 20 years ago, and redefined child, added unborn children, they created the Unborn Child Protection Act, and how did they do that? You know, if you look at anti-abortion arguments, if the fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses are separate persons who have rights, that then means that a person who carries a fertilized egg becomes a subject of state control.

Well, Wisconsin's the first to explicitly do that. They have a law that gives them permission to take custody and control over any woman, once she's carrying a fertilized egg, if she admits to any past or current use of alcohol or a controlled substance. The law has been declared unconstitutionally vague, but as it goes up through the federal court system it is still in effect.

And, when you are taken -- when a woman is taken into that system, a guardian ad litem, a lawyer, is appointed for her fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus, and she has no lawyer. She has no right to state appointed counsel to represent her, to find expert witnesses who could explain that admitting that you used to have a drug problem is not a risk to your future child, unless you have basically open season on the rights and humanity of women or people who become pregnant.

DOUG MCVAY: I was going to ask what other states are problems, and I'm just scared that that list, that you might not have time to give me the full list. Is any state getting it right? And I'm scared to think that that's going to be a real short list. If you can even, can --

LYNN PALTROW: There are definitely states that are doing less punitive things. It's hard for me to say that, to answer that question, because my answer would have to be, in order to be doing the right things, there needs to be universal healthcare. There needs to be a system that assures people, whether they're here with property documentation or not, that by seeking healthcare, or they're pregnant or not, that by seeking healthcare they are not making themselves vulnerable to reports to immigration authorities, to police, to child welfare authorities.

But increasingly, contact with any healthcare system is making people vulnerable. And yes, there are -- what's often true too is that in any given state, it might be better in one county than another. So you might have, it turns out in Wisconsin, the way the law's written, it does appear that doctors do not have to report women while they're pregnant. And that was because doctors opposed the Wisconsin unborn child protection act. And in Madison, they don't report. But in other counties, they do.

All over this country, a child might be reported, a parent might be reported to child welfare authorities because the woman admitted to smoking marijuana, or there was a positive drug test for marijuana, and one county might say, we know those people aren't a threat to their children, and hang up the phone. In another county, they may have their baby taken away.

DOUG MCVAY: You're there and you're a resource to help people who are in these situations. How do they find you?

LYNN PALTROW: It's been very interesting. People find us in numerous ways. So, women directly affected, their mothers, the grandmothers of the babies they just had, are among the people who go on the internet and find us. Sometimes a reporter calls us, and asks a question about a case, and in exchange for comment we find out how to reach the woman or her court appointed lawyer, or her lawyer.

Lawyers contact us, we recently did a webinar for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, explaining that if you have a case in which a woman's being arrested because she had an abortion, because she was pregnant and used one or another drug, call us, and we'll be able to offer some kind of help too, whether or not we can actually become directly involved in your case. So, a whole bunch of ways.

And, we try to help as many as we can. The number of child welfare cases are impossibly large. And there really, although our group does address the intersection of the war on drugs, the war on women, and the child welfare system, there really is not a single drug policy organization working at the intersection of drug policy and child welfare.

And what they don't realize is that child welfare has been a primary vector for expanding the drug war. Because by saying that evidence of drug use is the same as evidence of an inability to parent, at least for low income people and particularly black and brown people, you have just expanded the entire mythology of the drug war, and justification for state control.

So, in Colorado, marijuana becomes decriminalized, it becomes legalized, and one of the first responses to that has been efforts to treat any adult who has marijuana in their presence and a child in their presence as if they're child abusers. It is a mechanism for maintaining prohibition, maintaining control over certain populations.

DOUG MCVAY: Pray to heaven there's no one listening who needs your services, but for those who do?

LYNN PALTROW: The organization is National Advocates for Pregnant Women. Our website is AdvocatesForPregnantWomen.org. We have a Facebook page, National Advocates for Pregnant Women. And our twitter handle, if that's what it's called, is @NAPW.

DOUG MCVAY: Lynn Paltrow, thank you. Thank you for everything you do.

LYNN PALTROW: Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was my interview with Lynn Paltrow from National Advocates for Pregnant Women. We spoke at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference recently in Atlanta, Georgia.

And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. IÔÇÖve been your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.