This past week, volunteers from SWOP-Seattle went twice to the State House to address concerns over several anti-sex trafficking bills that are being considered by policymakers. There are currently four bills going through the house that take an “End Demand” stance on prostitution. Further, there are two that expand the legal definition of human trafficking, and three more trafficking related bills that we were just made aware of. SWOP-Seattle is speaking up to halt the progression of these bills. These bills will have devastating unintended consequences for sex workers, clients, and trafficking victims alike. The negative impact of the End Demand model has been well documented by leading health and human rights organizations (UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law and the UN Global Development Fund). Some of these bills have not yet made their way to the committee floor, but we’re keeping an eye on them.
Thursday’s focus was on two in-person meetings (15 minutes each in length) with the following Senators:
Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (36th District) and Senator Mike Padden (4th District) on HB 5277, which would make the crime of patronizing a prostitute a gross misdemeanor. And on HB5342, which expands the definition of “human trafficking to include vaguely worded “abuse of power, abuse of position of vulnerability.” Finally, we discussed HB5041 with Senator Padden, which would institute civil forfeiture for soliciting a prostitute.
Both Senators were gracious in meeting with SWOP volunteers. We felt that both Senators were listening to our concerns and we are pleased that the conversations are beginning to include sex workers. For us, this is the first step towards gaining a voice at the table when it comes to the design and implementation of policies pertaining to the sex trade. We now ask that the Senators consider the following points as they relate to the relevant bills:
– Consenting adult sex work is NOT the same as sex-trafficking.
– To understand that the data we present on behalf of our sex worker community is often contrary to the anti-sex trafficking discourse that’s been offered over the years, but that it is no less relevant and holds just as much weight for consideration.
– To understand that sex worker perspectives have been largely unheard until recently due to the stigma and vulnerability associated with “coming out” to stand up for one’s rights as a sex worker.
– We assert that End Demand policies and tactics will not effectively reduce trafficking, but may in fact increase vulnerability and abuses, and make life considerably more dangerous for consenting adult sex workers, as well as for victims of trafficking.
– We believe that increased social service to assist at risk individuals/populations will be far more effective in reducing human rights violations than increased penalization of clients.
– We call for amnesty to sex workers and trafficking victims so that violations can be reported without fear of arrest.
–We ask that sex worker advocacy organizations be included in the committees and processes when discussing and considering legislation about the sex industry, and that will directly impact consensual adult sex workers. Nothing about us without us.
-Allow sex workers themselves, and sex worker advocacy organizations to assist in being a part of the solution in identifying and addressing abuses that occur within the industry.
Friday’s focus was on testifying at the Senate hearing on HB 1558: relating to civil asset seizure for items related to the crime of “patronizing a prostitute.” Even the committee had questions about the civil forfeiture bill from the start. Three people testified in favor of the bill, five people testified against the bill (three from SWOP-Seattle). SWOP-Seattle’s testimonies carried messages of concern from the invisible sex worker community, as well as a detailed criticism of civil forfeiture laws. We felt as if the committee was paying attention, and over all it was a success in having our opinions heard.
SWOP-Seattle handed out booklets of sex worker statistics and studies on the failures of End Demand models. Much of the data we present is contrary to what people have been told. Therefore, we felt it necessary to provide supporting evidence for our opinions on the issues of End Demand tactics.