The Good News – California Senate Passes Bill to Advance Sex Worker’s Rights and Safety! Sacramento, CA – The California Senate passed SB 233 (Wiener), taking a historic step towards improving the health and safety of individuals involved in the sex trade. SB 233 provides immunity from arrest for individuals engaged in sex work when they come forward as a witness or a victim of violent crimes. The bill will also prohibit condoms from being used to arrest or prosecute individuals for sex work-related offenses.

San Francisco and Berkeley have already put policies in place that prevent sex workers from being arrested when reporting violent crime. And, in 2013, the City of and County of San Francisco recognized that using condoms as evidence unsafely discourages sex workers from using them and passed a local policy to prohibit police and prosecutors from using them as evidence in prostitution cases. SB 233 would implement these important policies statewide.

People of color and transgender sex workers are disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of sex work, with Black street-based sex workers bearing the brunt of policing. “St. James Infirmary fought for many years to end the local policy of collecting condoms as evidence in San Francisco,” said Toni Newman, Executive Director of St. James Infirmary, “we’re proud to sponsor SB 233, a bill that supports the self-determination of sex workers, their ability to protect themselves, and their right to bodily autonomy.

“Sex workers and trafficking survivors must no longer be silenced. As a community, we experience high levels of violence. This bill finally gives us an opportunity to say “me too” when we our lives and the lives of our community members are endangered and made unsafe. Our lives are valuable, and we deserve the right to seek safety just like anyone else,” said Kristen DiAngelo, Founder and Executive Director of Sex Workers Outreach Project – Sacramento, SB 233 sponsor.

The bill now moves on to the California Assembly.

The Bad News

FL Legislators Ignore Sex Workers & Unanimously Pass Senate Bill 540,

which Aims to Punish & Shame Adults Who Sell Sex

The Florida Legislature has unanimously passed Senate Bill 540 (2019), which will create a “Solicitation of Prostitution” registry in the state of Florida. This registry will be open to the public & aims to name & shame adults in the sex industry. Another provision will add a mandatory minimum jail sentence for first-time offenders who asked for compensated sexual services from a consenting adult.

Every member of the Florida House and Senate has now shown how little regard each member has for the brave sex workers and victims of sex trafficking who testified about the unavoidable harm this bill will create in their communities. This vote confirms that many legislators might share Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen’s belief that our advocates and allies are “criminals” and therefore, apparently, can be disregarded.

SWOP Behind Bars and its coalition partners put each lawmaker on notice about how this bill will add increase stigma toward people who sell sex, which will drive them further away from social services, including those that could help them leave the work if they wanted. We also told Florida lawmakers the bill would not just risk placing sex-worker clients on registries, but also sex workers if State Attorneys throughout the state charge them with “solicitation” offenses based on unilateral, unregulated whims.

Sex workers have tried to help legislators understand the harmful effects of proposed legislation in the past, when they cried out about how the federal SESTA/FOSTA bills would put them in danger  They were also ignored.

Dr. Jill McCracken, an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida, states “This bill is the opposite of what sex workers or harm reduction advocates want. Evidence-based research does not support punitive public shaming. Our legislators need to listen to sex workers and victims of trafficking when they tell us to stop these arrests.”  

Sex workers in Florida want the Florida Legislature and the world to know the truth. When we are killed because our  names are  placed on a registry, we will hold the Florida legislators responsible. When our kids are taken away from our safe homes, put into Florida’s dangerous foster-care system, perhaps cruelly beaten or sexually molested, we will also hold Florida legislators responsible. Listen to sex workers and stop these arrests.