Sex workers speak out against proposed anti-prostitution bills in Olympia

Feb 9, 2015, 5:24 AM | Updated: 6:04 pm

While the Washington state Legislature considers several bills aimed at curbing prostitution by targeting people who patronize prostitutes, local sex workers have come together to combat the effort.

In an open letter to policy and lawmakers, members of the Seattle chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project, a national organization of sex workers, say they are hoping to alter what they call the “pervasive myth that all sex work is inherently damaging and exploitative.”

“I truly am very passionate about the sex industry and I know many people who are as well” says “Sola,” the psuedonym of a woman speaking on behalf of the group in an interview with KIRO Radio.

Related: King County goes after “Johns” in new anti-prostitution effort

Sola, who says she is now retired after over a decade in the industry, challenges the contentions of bill sponsors and other anti-prostitution advocates that the vast majority of sex workers have been forced into the business or trafficked and can’t get out.

“Research touting statistics such as 87 percent of women in prostitution want to exit comes from research conducted in trauma centers as opposed to legal brothels,” says Sola. “An analogy would be if you were doing a study on alcohol use and did all of your research in AA and inpatient treatment centers so the statistics that are out there are terribly unsound.”

Several bills proposed in the Legislature take what’s known as an, “end demand” approach, targeting customers rather than sex workers.

One measure would increase the penalties for patrons of prostitutes to a gross misdemeanor, while another would allow allow law enforcement agencies to confiscate a car, money or other property that a person uses while patronizing a prostitute.

The bill proposed by Rep. Dick Muri, R-Steilacoom, would allow seizures prior to a conviction, with property Under the bill, forfeiture could happen prior to a conviction. However, there is a procedure in which the owner of a vehicle or other seized personal property can try to get those items back if he was not involved with the solicitation of sex.

“This flips the narrative on the sex trade,” said Muri at a hearing Friday in the House Public Safety Committee. “This reinforces the principle that the buyer of sex is who keeps the trade alive.”

But Sola argues the “end demand” approach has repeatedly failed across the world, and rather than reducing prostitution, it merely drives it further underground and exacerbates many of the problems including trafficking and abuse. And she questions the constitutionality of the seizure measure, especially since it imposes penalties prior to conviction.

“What they [end demand policies] tend to do is make the black market a more volatile and dangerous situation for everyone, and particularly those who are the most vulnerable populations involved,” she says.

According to Sola, the sex workers group applauds and agrees with efforts to protect exploited girls and women, but the members believe the state should join in international efforts to crack down on trafficking and exploitation while leaving “consenting adults” alone.

“The majority of individuals who are participating in this industry are not trafficked individuals and the majority of people who are trafficked individuals are not children,” she says.

The letter from the members of the group calls on policymakers to decriminalize sex work as recommended by a number of organizations including Amnesty International, the World Health Organization and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.

It also makes the following recommendations:

-Stop conflating commercial sexual exploitation with consensual adult sex work

-Stop promoting End Demand as an effective enforcement tactic

-Focus on trafficking into forced prostitution and minors in prostitution, – including comprehensive services and assistance for those who are susceptible to, and victims of trafficking

-Adopt a new approach that values independent, unbiased and methodologically sound research and that includes the voices of all concerned parties, including sex workers and youth.

But many disagree.

“It is not a business transaction,” said sex-trafficking victim Teri Vasquez of Washington Engage, an Olympia-based anti-human trafficking organization. “I was violated, kidnapped, beaten and held against my will as a minor.”

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Sex workers speak out against proposed anti-prostitution bills in Olympia