Archive for March, 2015

Sex Workers Sue California

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Sex workers are suing California in an effort to legalize their profession. Although it’s reputedly the world’s oldest profession, sex work is still widely considered illegal in America — a state of affairs which the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLER) is trying to change.

ESPLER is hoping to realize these changes through a lawsuit filed on March 4, 2015 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit, which claims that California’s 1961 prostitution laws violate key aspects of the constitution, names as defendants California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris and four district attorneys, including those in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, and Sonoma counties.

The basic idea of the sex worker lawsuit is that the current prostitution laws abridge some constitutionally protected freedoms. Specifically, current California laws could limit conversation about paid, consensual sex exchanges — and such limitations would stand in violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

Furthermore, the sex worker lawsuit contends that the current sex laws violate the fundamental right to engage in consensual sexual activity, that they prevent adults from choosing how they want to earn a living and who they want to enter into a contractual relationship with, and that they limit who individuals can meet with privately. Collectively, these points could violate the constitutionally protected right of free association, which is also guaranteed in the First Amendment.

The suit also claims that sex workers’ Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection is being violated by laws that have negative health and legal implications. Currently, California can use condoms as evidence of illicit activity, a practice which discourages safe sex.

ESPLER has said that the 1961 anti-prostitution law was put in place only for moral reasons, but that there is no legitimate or constitutional reason for continuing to let these laws stand.

Summing up the suit’s concerns, ESPLER President Maxine Doogan, a long-time sex worker, told CBS San Francisco, “We want the court to recognize our right to free speech. We want the court to recognize our right to equal protection under the law.”

In a press release, Doogan described the legalization of sex work as the next logical step in civil rights legislation as it relates to sex: “Just as the Lawrence v. Texas decision made same-sex sexual activity legal, and the Loving v. Virginia decision struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, this complaint seeks to remove the government from restricting basic fundamental and widely recognized civil and human rights.”

Citing other court cases, ESPLER attorney D. Gill Sperlein said, “The State can no longer simply say that morality is a sufficient reason for regulating private sexual relationships even when it involves the exchange of money. Social science clearly demonstrates that the criminalization of prostitution puts sex workers at risk of abuse because it discourages them from reaching out to law enforcement.”

Instead of asking for any monetary relief or compensation, the lawsuit asks the court to declare Section 647(b) of the California Penal Code — the 1961 prostitution law — unconstitutional.

The named defendants have not yet issued a public response to the suit.

Sex Workers Protest Against End Demand Legislation

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015

On March 3, sex workers protest in Washington State. They will gather outside the State House in Olympia, Washington’s capital, to protest End Demand legislation. Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) of the North West, a Seattle-based organization, is leading the charge.

This won’t be SWOP’s first trip to the state capitol to protest proposed sex work laws. You may be wondering, though, “What’s End Demand?” Admittedly, the gist of the bill is not immediately apparent from the name.

The bill that Seattle sex workers are protesting essentially seeks to end the demand for sex workers by further criminalizing the act of buying sex. Ostensibly, the intent is to end sex trafficking, but in reality the bills are much broader than that.

The centerpiece of the End Demand legislation that’s been proposed in Washington State is a bill that would increase the penalties for buying sex from a simple misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, which could mean up to a year of jail time and $5,000 in fines.

Another one of the bills under consideration would actually allow the government to seize the property of those who patronize sex workers. Thus, if you’re caught trying to buy sex while you’re in your car, the police could take your car.

The Washington State bill is not the first such piece of legislation. In 2005, a federal End Demand bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Deborah Price, a former congresswoman from Ohio. Although ultimately the federal bill didn’t pass, a similar bill did get enacted in Ohio. Similar sex work laws have been enacted in Hawaii and Illinois as well.

The thing is, there are a few problems with these policies — hence the protest in Olympia. First, there is the distinct possibility that enacting such laws will make sex work less safe. In 2012, UN Aids reported that STD transmission rates are lower when sex work is decriminalized. In more permissive legal climates, sex workers are better able to screen clients and less likely to take on unsafe jobs that might involve unprotected sex. These End Demand bills are an obvious move in the opposite direction.

Second, these laws completely fail to distinguish between consensual sex work and human trafficking. There’s no agreed upon estimate as to the percentage of sex workers who engage in their job of their own free will versus those who are coerced — but those two things are substantively different and should be treated as such.

Third, End Demand legislation could increase county jail populations. Our country has already gained notoriety for having the largest incarcerated population in the world. Mass incarceration has become a costly endeavor, and one that both sides of the aisle have begun to agree is not productive. Yet, End Demand legislation proposes to increase penalties for hiring sex workers and in doing so it works against decarceration efforts. Do you want your tax dollars spent locking up someone who engaged in a consensual sexual act?

If not, you may want to consider showing up at the State House in Olympia, Wash., on March 3, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a peaceful demonstration.