Project ROSE is a Phoenix city program that arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online. They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion program to those who qualified. Those who did not may face months or years in jail.
In the Bethany Bible Church, those arrested were not allowed to speak to lawyers. Despite the handcuffs, they were not officially “arrested” at all.
In law enforcement, language goes through the looking glass. Lieutenant James Gallagher, the former head of the Phoenix Vice Department, told me that Project ROSE raids were “programs.” The arrests were “contact.” And the sex workers who told Al Jazeera that they had been kidnapped in those windowless church rooms—they were “lawfully detained.”
“Project ROSE is a service opportunity for a population involved in a very complex problem,” Lieutenant Gallagher wrote to me in an email. Sex workers were criminals and victims at once. They were fair game to imprison, as long as they were getting “help.”
Project ROSE is the creation of Dr. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz. She is the director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and a tenured professor at Arizona State University, where Monica Jones is a student. Once, she and Monica had even debated Project ROSE.
According to Project ROSE’s website, most costs are absorbed by taxpayers, who pay the salaries of the officers carrying out the raids. Fifteen-hundred dollars more per day goes to the Bethany Bible Church. Volunteers, including students from Arizona State University, fill in the gaps. SWOP-Phoenix, an activist organization by and for sex workers, is filing freedom-of-information requests to discover ROSE’s other sources of funding.
At first, Project ROSE may seem similar to the many diversion programs in the United States, in which judges sentence offenders to education, rehab, or community service rather than giving them a criminal record. What makes ROSE different is that it doesn’t work with the convicted. Rather, its raids funnel hundreds of people into the criminal justice system. Denied access to lawyers, many of these people are coerced into ROSE’s program without being convicted of any crime. Project ROSE may not seem constitutional, but to Roe-Sepowitz, “rescue” is more important than rights.
What the hell? This is wrong and humiliating. Who the hell even thought this was appropriate to approve?