Updated Sunday Feb 28th, 2015

Members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Seattle are gravely concerned over the recently surge of bills being heard in the House and Senate to “End Demand” for prostitution. We are adamantly opposed to the increased criminalization of clients of sex workers (also referred to as the Swedish Model or End Demand), and the criminalization of the sex industry to begin with. There is no evidence to support the assertions that End Demand policies increase sex worker safety or reduces sex trafficking.  On the contrary, there is much evidence that these policies increase the risk of violence for everyone involved in sexual commerce, and have negative public health consequences.

The following is a summary of the multiple bills SWOP-Seattle members have been testifying against, and the reasons why we oppose these measures. If you are similarly concerned about these bills, please follow the links to the .gov pages where you can leave comments or contact the policymakers overseeing these bills.

Bills Discussed in this article:

  • HB 1558 & SB 5041Concerning Seizure & Forfeiture of Property for Patronizing a Prostitute/Sexual Exploitation
    HB 1651 & SB 5342: Concerning Definitions Related to Human Trafficking
    SB 5277: Concerning the Crime of Patronizing a Prostitute
    SB 5880: Enacting the Washington Human Trafficking Reporting Act

    • Civil Forfeiture•

    HB 1558 & SB 5041Concerning Seizure and Forfeiture of Property for Patronizing a Prostitute/Sexual Exploitation   

    Summary: HB 1588 & SB 5041 are two companion bills that will implement civil forfeiture punishments for patronizing a prostitute. The Senate Law & Justice committee recently changed the language of SB 5041 from “patronizing a prostitute” to “sexual exploitation.” Civil forfeiture allows police to take assets from a person suspected of purchasing sex without having to convict, let alone charge the owner with the wrongdoing. A recent amendment to the bill restricts asset seizure to those only with a prior “sexual exploitation” conviction and those present in areas deemed “high prostitution activity” zones. The police department and the prosecuting attorney appropriate the money gained from the assets, while only a small amount remains for potential victim services.

    *For the most up to date information on the status of the bills go to HB 1558 & SB 5041

    Our Concerns

     

    • Language: The language of both bills (SB 5041 especially) conflates consensual sexual commerce with sexual exploitation, human trafficking and “modern day slavery.” The bills make no differentiation between a person who purchases sex from a consenting individual and a person who sexually exploits a minor. Further, there is no empirical evidence that demonstrates a link between the demand for consensual sexual services and sexual exploitation.
    • Safety of Sex Workers: Both bills are part of a larger ‘End Demand’ campaign that is sweeping the nation. This campaign attempts to end the demand for sex work by further penalizing individuals who purchase sex. As we have seen with the ‘War on Drugs,’ the criminalization approach does not work and does far more harm than good. If passed, these bills would drive the market for sexual commerce further underground. Research compiled by the United Nations Development Fund and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law found that increasing penalties for demand puts the health and safety of both consensual sex workers and sexually exploited individuals at risk.
    • Policing for Profit: Civil forfeiture incentivizes policing for profit. Under these bills the police department and the prosecuting attorney’s office have exclusive access to all the profits gained from selling seized assets. NONE of the profits from selling these assets are made available to victims services. The only profits that would go toward victims services come from newly proposed vehicle recovery fines (separate from the impoundment and towing fees). Under this amendment, half of these proceeds would benefit law enforcement to further enforce this bill, and the other half is allotted for victim services and “john school.” This distribution of revenue prioritizes policing over rehabilitative services.
    • Violation of Constitution: The constitutionality of civil forfeiture has been heavily contested by many legal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union. Civil forfeiture violates a person’s right to due process and assumption of innocence until proven guilty. The procedures for an innocent person to retrieve their seized assets—which could include, among other things, their home, car and cash—is intentionally difficult and unclear. UPDATE: An amendment has been made to this bill to to more clearly lay out the process to get the assets back, but there are still many hoops to jump through in order to repossess one’s property.
    • Disparate Impact on People of Color: A comprehensive study conducted on civil forfeiture found that these laws have a disparate impact on individuals of color. Further, the ramifications of these laws extend beyond the individual and have a negative impact on families and communities. UPDATE: The latest version of SB 5041 includes vehicle recovery fees of $500-$2,500, in addition to standard impoundment and towing fees. This would impact lower-income families who may not have the resources to recover their vehicle yet rely on it to get to school and work.  
    • UPDATE: Stigma of Being Present in Certain Neighborhoods. The most recent amendment restricts asset seizure to those with prior “sexual exploitation” convictions and those found in newly designated and clearly marked “high prostitution activity” zones (known also as SOAP – Stay Out of Area of Prostitution). This amendment paints entire regions with the heavy stigma of prostitution, which can be systemically and directly harmful to the inhabitants of that region. Also, this undesirable association with prostitution would decrease the property value of all homes (seizable assets) in these neighborhoods, as well as inhibit economic and business growth as people avoid frequenting these areas.

    Who to contact to voice your concern about this legislation

    http://apps.leg.wa.gov/memberemail/Default.aspx

  • Senate Representatives Muri, Orwall, Stokesbary, Haler, Kilduff, Klippert, Riccelli, Ryu, Wylie
    • In the House: Senators O’Ban, Fain, Dammeier

     

 

    • HB 1651 & SB 5342: Concerning Definitions Related to Human Trafficking

      Summary: SB 1651 & SB 5342 expand the definition of human trafficking to mean—among other changes– “an act conducted for the purpose for exploitation, including forced labor, by particular means, for example threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deceptive, abuse of power, or abuse of position of vulnerability.”

      * For the most up to date information on the status of the bills go to HB 1651 & SB 5342

      Our Concerns

      • Language: With the city of Seattle’s recent renaming of “patronizing a prostitute” to be “sexual exploitation” and the adoption of this language in Senate Bill 5041 it is clear how quickly patronizing a prostitute (“sexual exploitation”) can be defined as trafficking. These bills make no distinction between consenting sexual commerce and sexual exploitation. This language codifies the belief that patronizing a prostitute is inherently exploitative, creates confusion as to what sexual exploitation actually is, and reduces our ability to discern and address actual exploitation.
      • Harmful Redundancy: Sexual exploitation that involves underage persons or adults subjected to force, fraud, or coercion is a serious violation of human rights, and is already illegal under Washington state law. The proposed bills are not only redundant, but their expanded definition jeopardizes the safety of sex workers—the very population the bills purport to protect. Sex work by individuals who are choosing to sell sexual services and that does not include elements of force, fraud, or coercion is not inherently exploitative, and it is not trafficking.
      • Safety of Sex Workers: Both bills are part of a larger ‘End Demand’ campaign that is sweeping the nation. This campaign attempts to end the demand for sex work by further penalizing individuals who purchase sex. As we have seen with the ‘War on Drugs,’ the criminalization approach does not work and does far more harm than good. If passed, these bills would drive the market for sexual commerce further underground. Research compiled by the United Nations Development Fund and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law found that increasing penalties for demand puts the health and safety of both consensual sex workers and sexually exploited individuals at risk

      Find representative contact info here:

    • http://apps.leg.wa.gov/memberemail/Default.aspx
       

House: 

    Representatives Ryu, Goodman, Rodne, Griffey, Van Werven, Wylie, Moscoso, Ormsby, Santos

  • Senate:  Senators Hasegawa, Kohl-Welles,Padden, McAuliffe, Brown, Keiser, Roach, Chase, Conway
  • SB 5277: Concerning the Crime of Patronizing a Prostitute

    Summary: SB 5277 increases the penalties for patronizing a prostitute from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. An amendment to the bill put forth by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill’s original sponsor, increases the penalties only after a second conviction. While we appreciate that the amendment is a step in the right direction, we still have grave concerns about the End Demand Approach the bill adopts.

    *For the most up to date information on the status of the bills go to SB 5277

    Our Concerns

    • Health and Safety Risks: Criminalization and the aggressive policing of sex work are shown to increase both consenting adult sex workers and trafficked victims vulnerability to violence, extortion, and health risks.  The criminalization of clients diminishes sex workers’ bargaining capacity, ability to screen out dangerous individuals, and the time and space necessary to negotiate safety practices such as condom usage.  Studies compiled by the UN Development Fund and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law show that the End Demand Approach puts sex workers at greater risk for exposure to HIV and other STIs.
    • Prohibition Begets Violence: Violence against both consenting adult sex workers and trafficked victims largely stems from the illegal nature of the market for sex. Many sex workers who may be experiencing abuses do not feel safe to come forward for fear of arrest or arrest of their non-abusive clients. An amnesty agreement to report abuses will go much further towards creating this safety, than a simple shift in enforcement. We feel that End Demand tactics are a form of criminal prohibition, and we would like to for policymakers to consider the unintended consequences of this approach. Criminal prohibition did not work in the war on drugs, why will it work now?
    • Incarceration of Nonviolent Individuals: The U.S. has come under repeated criticism from international human rights organizations for the mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders. SB5277 makes no distinction between abusive and non-abusive clients. A client who purchases sex from a consenting adult sex worker is subject to the same punishment as a client who purchases sex from a juvenile forced into providing sexual labor. We find the use of criminal punishment to penalize individuals conducting their private affairs to be moralistic and exacerbating of the harmful stigma already associated with the sex trade.
    • End Demand is Not Evidence Based: There is no evidence to support the End Demand Approach. Data compiled by the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law and the UN Global Development Fund found that since Sweden enacted their policy to criminalize the demand for sex work the policy has not improved the lives of sex workers–in fact, it has worsened their situation.

    Who to contact to voice your concern about this legislation –

  • Find representative contact info here: 
  • http://apps.leg.wa.gov/memberemail/Default.aspx
  • Senate: Senators Kohl-Welles,Darneille, Padden, Pedersen, Fain, Frockt, Keiser, Chase, Fraser

 

  • SB 5880: Enacting the Washington Human Trafficking Reporting Act

    Summary: SB 5880 enacts mandatory training and reporting for individuals in fields and professions assumed to have contact with “those forced to engage in the sex trade.” This includes those in the hospitality or specialty industries, such as: spas, hotels, bars nightclubs, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, truck stops, restaurants, retail stores in malls, internet advertisements or dating services, and convenience stores. In addition, those who serve as first responders or in medical and public service, such as hospital staff, abortion clinics, schools, or child protective services. Individuals in these areas would receive training on how to identify potential victims. Under this bill any individual who knowingly fails to make or “cause to be made” a report pursuant with this law is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. This means up to a $5,000 dollar fine and one year in jail.

    *For the most up to date information on the status of the bills go to SB 5880

    Our Concerns

    • Not Evidence Based: Section (1) of the bill begins with a number of alarmist statistics about the number of children in the illicit sex trade. These statics are grossly inflated and empirically incorrect. Codifying statics that have been empirically disproven will only hurt, not help. Washington State prides itself in being an evidence-based legislature and it should continue to hold itself to that high standard.
    • Misreporting: The threat of severe punishment and the ambiguous language in the bill may lead to an influx of misreporting for fear of penalties. These false reports may inundate the already resource scarce criminal and legal system and detract from pursuing actual cases of exploitation and abuse. Washington State has recently come under scrutiny for its inability to processes backlogged rape kits. We fear that police and prosecutors will similarly mishandle mandatory reports of sexual exploitation.
    • Harmful Redundancy: Washington State law already requires individuals in service provider positions to report suspected abuse. Unlike bar tenders or tattoo artists, these individuals are trained by profession to recognize harm and abuse—and will most likely repeatedly come into contact with individuals suffering abuses. New legislation that increases penalties for not reporting, and includes unqualified individuals will not increase sound reports.
    • Health and Safety Risks: Increased reporting may actually deter individuals experiencing abuse from seeking assistance. We have seen this play out in the area of partner abuse. Abused individuals need safe spaces to seek assistance. These laws are not conducive to creating safe environments for victims and service providers.

    Who to contact to voice your concern about this legislation