On International Sex Worker Rights Day, supporters from SWOP-Seattle amassed at the State House in Olympia to make the voices and concerns of sex workers known. Our goal today was to connect with Senators and Representatives who are either directly working on End Demand bills, or who we felt would be receptive to hearing our opinions as a community.
Speaking with Policymakers:
On our way to the Legislative Building, we ran into Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who met with us a few weeks ago to discuss concerns over SB 5277 (increasing penalties for patronizing a prostitute to a gross misdemeanor). Kohl-Welles not only listened to us, but amended the bill to have the increased penalties go into effect only after a client’s third conviction. We thanked her today for this change, and she said she wasn’t sure if it would stick. We’ll try to follow up on this, to make sure it does.
Once we got into the Legislative Building, we met with Representative June Robinson, who graciously left the floor (The House of Representatives is in session this week) to meet us. We told her of our concerns over End Demand bills, and she listened. We thank Representative Robinson for her time, and hope to connect in the future about these issues, as she has a strong focus on Public health.
Next we intercepted Senator Joe Fein on his way back to the floor. Senator Fein is one of the sponsors of SB 5041 (concerning asset seizure) and SB 5277 (increasing penalties for patronizing a prostitute to a gross misdemeanor). We stated our concerns as a community, that these bills will harm more than help, and he gave us some time to hear us out. As Senator Fein is on the Rules Committee for at least one of these bills, we will be following up with his office to schedule a meeting, to explain our case more thoroughly.
In the hallway we ran into Senator Jeannie Darnielle, who was on the Law & Justice Committee hearing many of the End Demand bills we’re challenging. We talked to her for a few minutes, and during that time she stated that as a feminist, she felt very much against what we were standing for. She said that it was hard for her to see smart, articulate, beautiful girls like us in this line of work. We suggested that perhaps she was projecting some assumptions about what our line of work looks like, and we explained that the bills at hand would only hurt sex workers and trafficked people alike, disempowering an already marginalized and stigmatized community. We appreciate the Senator’s honesty an clear communication with us. We feel there is more to talk about here, and may contact Senator Darnielle for a deeper discussion.
A member of our group has a personal connection with Representative Frank Chopp, who was busy when we tried to gain his audience. His aids were very polite and said that we could follow up to make an appointment with him. We will be getting in touch with Representative Chopp, as we sense he will be receptive to our concerns as a community.
Lastly, we flooded the office of Senator Steve O’Ban, who is the sponsor of SB 5041 (concerning asset seizure) and SB 5277 (increasing penalties for patronizing a prostitute to a gross misdemeanor), and who was also on the Law & Justice Committee we have been recently testifying at. During our testimony, Mr. O’Ban’s language around sex work (insisting on calling everyone working in the industry as a “victim”, and disdainfully saying that the word “John” was too good for clients) and eye-rolling made it clear that he is in need of a conversation with our group. We were unable to pull him from the floor today, but we made an appointment for 3/17, during which we hope to make the concerns and realities of sex workers in Seattle plainly known to him. We look forward to sharing our perspectives, even with someone who seems as adamantly opposed to our views as Mr. O’Ban.
In Conclusion, a Successful Day!
Overall, today was a very empowering Sex Worker Rights Day! We made new connections with policymakers, and we got coverage from King 5 News and KOMO News, sharing with the broader public why we we are taking action against End Demand. We want to thank everyone who came out to support us, from the sex workers who took the risk to show their faces and speak out, to the friends, family members, and human rights activists who support our cause. Thank you!