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ANN ARBOR –
The U of M’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender will host a conference on “Sex and Justice,” Oct. 4-6. The international conference will examine and critique ongoing domestic and international efforts to criminalize and punish sex.
A wide array of trailblazing activists, legal experts, and scholars from the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Cameroon who argue for policy reform on a diverse array of issues will gather for the first time during this three-day historic meeting.
Conference organizer Trevor Hoppe says he organized the event because “hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been locked up, beaten, or killed for having sex. These issues haven’t yet received the attention they deserve. Victims and their advocates have been bullied into silence for too long, fearing for our jobs and in some cases our lives. This conference will shatter that silence.”
Among the numerous issues that will be discussed is the increasing use of criminal law both in the U.S. and internationally to punish HIV-positive people. In 34 U.S. states it is a crime for HIV-positive people to have sex without disclosing their infection, whether or not they put their partners at risk. HIV is not transmitted in most cases, prompting leaders such as U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to call for reform.
The increasing use of public sex offender registries, which have grown to include over 750,000 Americans in recent years, will also be discussed. George Mason University Prof. Roger Lancaster notes that many of those forced to register are nonviolent, first-time offenders. Like a growing number of policy experts, he believes these registries need to be reformed. “Public registry requirements create a class of unemployable and unhouseable pariahs,” he said.
Many of those who bear the brunt of these policies are poor and black, argues Kenyon Farrow of the Praxis Project. Farrow suggests that race and racism are the most pressing issues facing advocates of policy reform. “What kind of man or woman you are; what kind of gay, lesbian, or transgender person you are; and how the state responds to you, largely is still a matter of race,” Farrow said.
International efforts to punish sex will also be highlighted. Cameroonian Alice N’Kom will discuss her efforts to fight charges brought against gay men in her country who are accused of being homosexual, including a recent case in which a gay man was convicted for sending text messages to an acquaintance.
Those punished under unfair sex policies will also attend the conference to share their experiences. Melissa Petro was fired from her job as a NYC schoolteacher when she revealed in an online essay that she had engaged in sex work when she was younger. “My speech should have been Constitutionally protected and had I the resources to argue my case it would have been,” she said.