House Co Sponsorship MemorandaHouse Co-House of Representatives
Session of 2017 – 2018 Regular Session
MEMORANDUM Posted: January 4, 2017 01:30 PM
From: Representative Joanna E. McClinton and Rep. Tarah Toohil
To: All House members
Subject: Prostitution Recidivism. In the near future, we will be introducing legislation to change the current penalties for prostitution recidivism. Please note that under our bill, prostitution will remain a criminal offense with the current penalty of a misdemeanor of the third degree. With the passage of Act 105 in September 2014, Pennsylvania finally began to recognize people criminally charged with the non-violent crime of prostitution as who they truly are – victims of sex trafficking. However, the crime of prostitution under Pennsylvania law still carries draconian recidivist provisions which increase punishment with each new conviction. A third prostitution offense becomes a misdemeanor of the second degree, and a fourth prostitution offense becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree – punishable with up to a maximum of five years of incarceration. At one time, many believed that a woman freely chose to enter into “the life” of prostitution, and consequently, might be deterred from re-entering “the life” at the prospect of harsher punishment. However, recent studies have shown that this view is largely archaic and unfounded. The reality is that most women do not sell sex by choice, but rather as a means of survival. Many of these women are in “the life” because they ran away from abusive homes as children, lived on the streets, and remain uneducated, jobless, and homeless. When passing Act 105 of 2014, the General Assembly recognized that many prostitution-related crimes are not the fault of the victims, but rather, traffickers who have exploited them. However, Pennsylvania’s draconian recidivist provisions were unchanged, and remain useless in preventing these victims from returning to prostitution. Please take a moment and consider the financial cost of incarcerating these victims for repeat offenses. According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), at least 914 individuals, mainly women, were imprisoned state-wide for repeat prostitution charges from 2010 through 2015. The astronomical financial cost to imprison women with prostitution convictions presents a compelling reason to abolish recidivist provisions for prostitution. For example, in 2014, the City of Philadelphia imprisoned 127 people for repeat prostitution charges and spent $115 daily per inmate. Based on this statistic, the city spent $14,605 daily or $5,330,825 a year incarcerating mostly non-violent women who most often engage in the sex trade out of desperation or abuse. If even a portion of these resources were spent on programs to assist these women in exiting prostitution, the financial gains would be tremendous.
The solution to this inequality and the economic waste of resources is to eliminate the recidivism provisions for the non-violent crime of prostitution. Our legislation will ensure that individuals will only be charged with a misdemeanor of the third degree, regardless of any prior prostitution convictions. Pennsylvania is behind 37 other states with lesser penalties for prostitution convictions and is one of three states with the harshest maximum penalties. Our system is failing these women in getting them the help they need and deserve. It is time for our Commonwealth to catch up with the many states that have already recognized prostitution for what it truly is – sexual exploitation. The first step towards this recognition is abolishing unfair and short-sighted recidivist provisions. Please join us in co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation. A copy of the language has been attached for your convenience. If you have any questions, please contact the Harrisburg office of Representative Joanna McClinton at (717) 772-9850.
M. Dante followed up on the recidivism memorandum with Representative McClinton:
Thank you for meeting with me yesterday, Friday, February 17, 2017. I genuinely believe the meeting with Representative McClinton, Representative Aide Hope Foy, and myself went very well. These discussions are still a challenge for me, so I hope I was able to convey specific needs with clarity, the issues, and needs of others beyond myself, and also with respect to Representative McClinton’s role in her community and greater commonwealth. Though some of the issues discussed were certainly off -topic from the Memoranda on Prostitution Recidivism, I hope everything discussed seems pertinent to the needs of those affected by the Commonwealth’s view on prostitution. There are many conflated issues on the topics of prostitution, sex trafficking, and sex work, along with the peripheral issues of sexual abuse, so communicating effectively, while also establishing clear, relevant community needs is essential.
I realize our meeting went longer than our visit was scheduled for, so – truly – thank you for the time. I am pleased that there is definite interest in following up on our meeting with respect to: draconian language of the Pennsylvania criminal codes on prostitution, Act 105 and data collection, lack of expungement for prostitutes, lack of ongoing support services for sex trade survivors and current sex workers (active or looking to exit), and the challenge of discussing possibilities without established models of support service relative to – among other needs – vocational retraining, job placement and housing assistance.
I referenced People’s Emergency Center (PEC) as the only organization in the city willing – and happy – to work with me knowing I was a displaced and aging trade survivor / sex worker in need of support services. As a BenePhilly affiliate, PEC thought they could help me with complications I experienced with my Medicaid after moving from Lancaster County to Philadelphia County, and also in my attempt to have food stamps while underemployed. When they were unable to assist with complications, I was assigned to Louise Hayes, an attorney specializing in benefits at Community Legal Services (CLS). Louise assisted me after communicating with the public defender office on the authenticity of my status. Since sex trade survivors are not a recognized category of people in need, my file as labeled as “domestic violence”. Also through PEC, under the direction of Constance Simon and Jasmine Hunt Robinson, winter 2016 I participated in a four-week long Career Ready Training (CRT), a well delivered, and incredibly helpful program. I am blessed to have been welcome to participate in CRT, and also in Philadelphia community literacy efforts such as Read by 4th, Universal Pre-K, Grow to Know, and more. Despite visiting Harrisburg Spring and Summer 2016 with PEC policy director Joe Willard in affiliation with Home Matters and the Pennsylvania Housing Alliance, the one area I could not find assistance with was/is housing. My deceased mother’s home in Lancaster went to sheriff sale October 2015 due to complications after my step-father’s arrest. Due to gentrification in Philadelphia, I could not afford to stay in the city, especially while also looking for employment and engaging in volunteer work. Spring 2016 I moved to Conshohocken, and went back to work in Lancaster County. Currently, I work most nights in the Philadelphia Metro area, while commuting part of the week back to Lancaster, and at times even York County. Because of my living and working in multiple counties, there are no programs or services available. At least not that I’ve been able to find. This is not just to mention my situation, but to show a sample of a challenge in survivor services when individuals live and work in a region of the commonwealth as opposed to one set municipality.
Also referenced was my autumn 2016 meeting with Mr. Timothy Kelly, aide to Representative Brian Sims, who introduced language on Hate Crimes, International Human Rights Day, and discussion on opposition to conversion therapy for LGBTQI youth in Pennsylvania.
Past conversations have included phone conversations with Senator Greeleaf’s aide Zachary regarding Pennsylvania Safe Harbor, however there seemed to be no understanding on behalf of the Senator’s office of how adult survivors are relevant to the discussion.
Last – The only “model” of which I am aware as far as support services specific to sex workers is HIPS, which was established in Washington, D.C., in 1993. HIPS stands for Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive and offers an array of services. I do not believe, however, that they have sex work friendly re/entry services such as vocational retraining, discreet job placement, and on-going support if individuals relocate to other counties or nearby areas. If arrested, diversion and justice-based efforts offer some sort of immediate, short term re/entry program, though only if you view your work experience as a crime, and agree to a rescue model of modification, which often includes the requirement of identifying all of your affiliations as conspirators in trafficking.
Urban Justice Project (UJP) is Manhattan has been leading the nation in research efforts, and really most of the country is still in research mode on the topic.
Potentially we have the ability to lead the nation here in the Commonwealth utilizing similar concepts to Ban the Box, and Network of Care which focus on community integration after prison. Potentially …
I will do more research on the national view on sex trade survivor and sex work “re/entry”, and get back to you.
Please let me know if there are any errors in my minute notes of our meeting.
Thank you both again for your time, attention, compassion and interest in meeting again.
Best – M. Dante