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Prince George's County Police Department: Public Shaming Won't Work

Last week, the Prince George's County (Maryland) Police Department announced they would live Tweet an upcoming prostitution sting operation, sharing photos of clients using the #PGPDVice hashtag. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) immediately contacted the Prince George's County Police Department (PGPD) Chief Mark Magaw expressing our concern and calling on the department to drop this harsh, public shaming effort and instead engage with sex workers and local advocates on positive steps to address crimes against sex workers and related issues.

Our letter to PGPD states that broad stings and public shaming are regressive tactics that don't decrease prostitution or address any of the issues associated with it. Instead, it feeds the stigma and fear that make sex workers vulnerable to robberies, assaults, and even abuse by police themselves. While PGPD has been quick to clarify that it won't be tweeting photos of sex workers, only their customers, we respond: "Targeting sex workers' customers isn't any better--it further instills fear and makes it harder for sex workers to protect themselves by screening clients." NCTE Director of Policy Harper Jean Tobin said, "We were proud to work with the Prince George's Police Department recently on a national transgender training program for law enforcement, and we're glad that PGPD has expressed it is concerned about the exploitation and abuse of sex workers. But this type of crass shaming tactic is not the right way to act on that concern. NCTE urges Chief Magaw to scrap this unwise plan and work with sex workers and their advocates to develop more meaningful approaches to promoting public safety and health."


Sex worker rights advocates and transgender people have hijacked the #PGPDVice hashtag calling on the department to retract this Twitter event. Advocates are also pledging financial support a HIPS, a DC-based sex worker rights advocacy group, for every tweet by the PGPD from the planned sting operation. NCTE encourages Twitter users to engage in dialogue with PGPD using some of these tweets below:

  • Sex work is not inherently violent but criminalization and stigma often make it so. #PGPDVice: Tweeting feeds dangerous stigma.
  • Sex workers who face abuse, either while working or in daily life, often don't report the attack due to fear of police + stigma. #PGPDVice
  • Police officers should treat everyone with dignity including sex workers. #PGPDVice: Broad stings, public photos are inhumane.
  • .@PGPDNews should be serving and protecting, not intimidating sex workers, outing clients. #PGPDVice We stand with @HIPSDC
  • Anti-sex worker sting ops do not fix the issues that force many into underground economies. Shaming doesn’t work. #PGPDVice
  • Public stings feed fear, stigma that endanger sex workers. #PGPDVice, focus on those who rob or assault, not just sweeping up clients.
  • In many cities, carrying condoms can be used to profile and criminalize people, esp. #trans people, for being a sex worker. #RightsNotArrest
  • 16% of ppl in a #trans survey say they engaged in the underground economy incl sex work to get by #PGPDVice #lgbt
  • Due to stigma, sex workers are more vulnerable to homelessness, HIV or AIDS, and lack of healthcare. #PGPDVice
  • A #NYC survey found that nearly a third of sex workers faced police violence and abuse. #RightsNotArrest
  • Nearly all street-based sex workers in an #NYC study were homeless or had unstable housing. #RightsNotArrest
  • .@PGPDNews if you want to protect sex workers, work with sex workers and their advocates. Tips from @WHO here:
  • For every shameful Tweet from @PGPDNews pledge a dollar to support a sex worker rights group @HIPSDC #RightsNotArrest

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