As people who have been involved in the sex trade, allies, advocates, and service providers from Colorado and around the country, we are writing to raise some concerns we have with Colorado State Senate Bill 85. We are aware that similar “Demand Reduction” legislation has been or may be introduced in numerous states around the country. We are concerned about the unintended consequences of such measures on sex workers and even victims of trafficking. In other jurisdictions, these consequences have been well-documented.
-Senate Bill 85 raises penalties for a crime that could be enforced against sex workers. The definitions of “soliciting for a prostitute,” “promoting,” or “pandering” include many actions sex workers themselves do to stay safe, like sharing safe work space, referring each other to safe clients, and working together. By relying on each other, sex workers avoid abusive exploiters, but under this new bill, basic harm reduction tactics could lead to enormous fines.
-Senate Bill 85 creates a financial incentive for police departments to arrest more sex workers. The grant program authorized under SB85 would require police to increase their arrests of people for “prostitution-related offenses,” which could could include increased arrests of sex workers for prostitution, as well as arrests of sex workers accompanied by pressure and harassment to get them to reveal their customers or others involved in sex work. In a recent report submitted to the United Nations, sex workers stated that their greatest threat of abuse came not from customers, but from “police and other state agencies.” (Best Practices Policy Project and Desiree Alliance. 2010. “Report on the United States of America, 9th Round of the Universal Periodic Review.” Retrieved 5 May 2011. (www.bestpracticespolicy.org)). Giving law enforcement more incentive to arrest vulnerable sex workers makes abuse more likely, and is not a good use of scarce government resources.
-SB85 will lead to increased focus on criminalization and policing of sex work in areas where street-based sex work is common. Targeting of these areas could result in pushing street-based sex workers further underground and make it harder for providers of essential resources to help them.
-Increased criminalization of sex work leads to higher rates of violence and STI/HIV transmission. (http://www.hivlawcommission.org/resources/report/FinalReport-Risks,Rights&Health-EN.pdf). Higher rates of criminalization and policing have resulted in sex workers having less time to screen for risks to safety and negotiate safe-sex practices. After implementation of “End Demand” in Sweden, interview subjects reported that street-based sex workers were ultimately accepting “more risky ‘tricks’ for less money,” and were less likely to report an abusive client to police, then when sex work was decriminalized. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7D7nOh57-I8). (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/view-from-the-streets-new-nordic-sex-laws-are-making-prostitutes-feel-less-safe-9294458.html). (https://glasgowsexworker.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/our-bodies-our-selves/). (http://feministire.com/2012/11/23/taking-ideology-to-the-streets-sex-work-and-how-to-make-bad-things-worse/). (http://www.lauraagustin.com/behind-the-happy-face-of-the-swedish-anti-prostitution-law). (http://humboldt1982.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/dangerous-liaisons.pdf).
-There is no data to show that “john schools” improve access to opportunities or increase safety of sex workers. In fact, some john school programs increase the stigma associated with sex work, by portraying sex workers as violent, as purely submissive victims, or as vectors of disease. Sex workers already face societal stigma and feelings of isolation, which are some of the greatest barriers to safety.
SB 85 does more than implement “john schools” for customers of sex workers who have been arrested. SB85 could put sex workers, their families, co-workers, and customers in more dangerous situations. A revolving door of arrests and convictions can negatively impact future employment, housing, immigration, and child custody and this failed approach neither eliminates prostitution, nor addresses harms in the sex industry, and it certainly does not improve the lives of sex workers.
Ensuring that your constituents have access to education, living wage opportunities, and supportive services would help to ensure that no one enters sex work because of desperate circumstances or coercion. We are advocating for support, services, and alternatives for trafficking survivors, provided in non-coercive ways. SB85 only increases criminalization people in the sex trade, including those who are being abused and/or trafficked.
International Organization for Adolescents
SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Project) Chicago
Best Practices Policy Project
Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center