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Seattle sex workers say promise from officials isn’t enough

Sex workers united to march through downtown Seattle this week to protest prostitution laws. (Sara Lerner, KIRO Radio)

Activists with a group called the Sex Worker Outreach Project marched in downtown Seattle Thursday. They argue that they aren’t victims and they were not forced into their jobs.

The group began marching in Pioneer Square in Seattle, then made their way to the King County Prosecutor’s Office and Seattle City Hall, delivering petitions that demand sex work is decriminalized, among other things.

Related: Why would anybody want to be a sex worker?

The letter also demands they be included in dialogue on efforts to fight human trafficking.

Maggie McNeill, a sex worker and blogger who protested with the group, says it’s good to help people who are coerced into sex work, but the law goes about it the wrong way.

They say law enforcement’s focus to “end demand” and target people who buy sex is misguided. Instead, they ask that sex work is decriminalized.

“I mean, what we’re seeing is the police going out and doing plain old street stings like they’ve been doing since the ’60s,” she said. “And now they’re calling them human trafficking stings.”

But recently, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said he was not at all interested in arresting willing sex workers, only traffickers.

Going back nearly a decade, the King County Prosecutor’s office has shifted its approach away from arresting sex workers and towards offering them methods to get out of “the life.”

Years ago, that was viewed by many as an innovative approach. Sex workers were no longer seen as criminals and thrown in jail.

Now, the conversation is shifting. Sex workers like McNeill say a promise from local officials isn’t enough if sex work is still considered illegal and on the books. She says sex workers don’t feel they can go to police in cases of rape or assault.

The King County Prosecutor’s Office sent KIRO Radio a response to the protestors’ letter:

From our perspective in law enforcement, we see women and children coerced and forced into prostitution who are regularly abused by their pimps and their buyers. The women in SWOP may have a choice, but there are many victims being exploited who do not. We need to focus on helping those who don’t have a choice.

SWOP is holding a number of events this week in honor of sex worker rights.

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