Sex worker activists say that an end demand model (like what this business cat meme from last weeks anti-trafficking presentation at Town Hall is trying to accomplish) is flawed and makes their working conditions more dangerous.
  • Sydney Brownstone
  • Sex worker activists say that an "End Demand" model (like what this business cat meme from last week's anti-trafficking presentation at Town Hall is trying to accomplish) is flawed and makes their working conditions more dangerous.

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The Sex Workers Outreach Project of Seattle (SWOP-Seattle) published an open letter to lawmakers late last week, asking them to reconsider a handful of bills moving through the state legislature that would increase penalties for buyers of sex, or clients.

Sex workers and activists from the Gender Justice League tried to speak out against the bills a couple of weeks ago in Olympia, but the public comment session ended before they got their turn. The piece of the proposed legislation they and the letter-writers take issue with is the attempt to move toward an "End Demand" model. What's that? In brief, it's the notion that deterring the act of "patronizing a prostitute" will cut down on sex trafficking and the vicious abuse of minors. The bills, SB 5277, SB 5041, and HB 1558, wouldn't only elevate the penalty for buying sex to up to a $5,000 fine and up to a year of jail time—they would also allow the state to seize the property of convicted clients.

The problem with these bills, as we've referenced before, is that they do little to separate sex trafficking and consensual sex work. The model makes no distinction between patrons of unwilling sex slaves and patrons of willing sex workers.

Moreover, sex worker activists argue, scaring clients and shutting down websites where sex workers can screen those clients only serves to put those sex workers in more dangerous situations. If clients are too spooked to hand over personal information, sex workers can't do thorough background checks. Decriminalizing sex work—including decriminalizing demand, they argue—would also cut down on HIV infection rates.

Those arguments should not conflict with the necessary efforts to fight sex trafficking. But unlike solid anti-trafficking legislation in the past that has elevated sex slavery to a felony and increased the penalty for advertising sex with minors, the wording of the new bills sweeps consensual adult sex work under the trafficking umbrella, too.

You can read the letter, which has received 89 supportive comments and signatures since it went up last week, here. Quite a few of the comments appear to be written by sex workers who describe themselves as happily self-employed.

That said, there are lots of different types of sex work, and perhaps some kinds do fall into a gray area between sexual exploitation and fair labor. If that's the case, then lawmakers should try to be hearing from as many sex workers as possible, not as few.