Sex Workers Protest Against End Demand Legislation

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.

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