Sex Worker Faces Jail Sentence After Being Filmed by Drone

North America and Caribbean Regional Correspondent

An Oklahoma sex worker has pleaded guilty to charges after being caught on camera by a vigilante’s drone camera. NSWP has chosen not to reproduce the sex worker’s name to reduce the harm of media visibility in her case. She has been sentenced to one year in state prison for the misdemeanor charge. Her alleged client’s case remains pending.

An Oklahoma City resident has made it his personal mission to surveil sex workers and post the footage on his website and YouTube Channel. In this case, he also sent the footage to the police.

“It's alarming to see civilians increasingly become an extension of state surveillance and policing,” SWOP Communications Director Katherine M. Koster told NSWP. “It's possibly even more upsetting to read that as a result of this vigilante policing, an individual who was filmed was sentenced to a year in jail for a victimless crime. This is not an effective use of our tax dollars or police forces.”

The drone footage was shot in August 2015. The alleged transaction occurred in a vehicle, away from public sight. The vigilante posted the footage to a website where he regularly violates the privacy and safety of sex workers and their clients. The vigilante also handed over the footage to Oklahoma City police who used it to charge the sex worker with an act of lewdness.

“I also wonder what motivates [the vigilante] to spend so much time trying to out, shame, arrest, and potentially endanger sex workers. Neighbourhood quality of life issues are legitimate, but it frustrates me that sex workers, drug users, homeless individuals and people of colour are often singled out as disturbances to ‘quality of life’ and the line between stigma and hate, and legitimate tangible concerns are repeatedly crossed,” Koster went on to say.

The use of drone technology raises new levels of privacy concerns.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, explained to the BBC, “people operating drones have to think about whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are filming. The technologies may be different but the ethics are fundamentally the same.”

“Ultimately, such tactics are a needlessly harmful and wholly ineffective way to address street-based economies and community members' quality of life concerns. It's important to view people who are involved in street-based economies as a part of our communities – not as outsiders or threats. Addressing tangible neighbourhood issues (such as rubbish, traffic, noise, and public obscenity) requires buy-in from all community stake-holders, including sex workers, and research has shown that neighborhood mediation, compromise, and bringing together all stakeholders is the best and most ethical way to deal with the quality of life issues that come along with street-based economies and public life,” Koster added.