Opinion: SB1322 Protects Minors, But More Protections Needed

By Amber Enderton | January 2, 2017 |    It is known as the world’s oldest profession, and in September Gov. Jerry Brown signed a...



By Amber Enderton | January 2, 2017 |   

It is known as the world’s oldest profession, and in September Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law (SB 1322) that will reduce the charges of those who participate in it. Sex workers and their clients will receive lighter charges, as giving or receiving money for sex is now disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. 

It will also shield from prosecution any minor caught engaging in such acts, referring them to social services, who are better equipped to deal with victims of sexual abuse. The abusers will still face the same charges; as the bill does not reduce the charges for anyone caught having sex with a minor, trafficking a minor, or pimping out a minor. 

Over the past few days, there has been some panic, as the law went into on January 1, but it’s important to know the facts. This bill does not protect those found sexually exploiting a minor, only the minors themselves.

With all the focus on that one provision in the bill, it’s easy to forget what the rest of the bill does. Decriminalizing sex work has been supported by the United Nations. Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization, and even Amnesty International; and while this bill falls short of that, it is good to see California moving in that direction. 

While sex trafficking still needs to be an issue; any sex worker will tell you that sex work is work. We don’t criminalize other industries out of concern for human trafficking, only sex. In fact, trafficking people for labor is more prolific than trafficking people for sex. We don’t ban seafood processing or clothing manufacturing because of forced labor, and we shouldn’t do it for sex. Sex trafficking is bad, but sex work isn’t and we need to listen to the concerns of those who engage in it of their own volition.

Since 2000, one method that has been talked about is the Swedish Model. It allows for sex workers to engage in their profession while making it illegal to purchase sex from them, at least in theory. In truth though, there is a lot of misunderstanding about it. The Swedish Model is not actually a model for decriminalizing sex work but criminalizing it; as prior to 2000 there was no laws on the books that made sex work illegal. 

Furthermore, the law has added a lot of stigmatization of the practice, even if supposedly it isn’t supposed to affect the sex workers. Several years back, a sex worker in Sweden was beaten to death by her ex-husband after the court refused to issue a protective order against him. They shared a child together, and because the court was loath to award sole custody to a sex worker, they issued joint custody; which resulted in the court unwilling to issue the protective order against him because he had a court mandated right to see the child. In addition to the law’s perhaps unintended consequences, there are other provisions in the law that have a direct impact on sex worker’s lives. For example, the Swedish Model criminalizes brothels, which is defined so broadly that two sex workers sharing an apartment together could be charged as running a brothel. The Swedish Model is just not a good model for the decriminalization of sex work; and both the sex worker and the patron need to be free from scrutiny by law enforcement.

One other thing that should be addressed is the abuse sex workers suffer under the current laws. The underground nature of it exposes sex workers to  high level of abuse and even death. Sex workers are often fearful of seeking help from law enforcement for fear of criminal charges. Rape and abuse often go unpunished because there is no safe way to report a crime. Police have even been known to rape sex workers themselves, blackmailing them with arrest unless they provide gratification. 

Even if you aren’t a sex worker you’re still subject to profiling by police, especially if you’re a trans woman and/or a woman of color. The Internet is rife with personal anecdotes of police harassment; unlawful searches because of a suspicion of prostitution. Trans women are even warned not to carry condoms around in cities like New York, as police have used the presence of condoms on a person as evidence of prostitution, and some have even been charged with the only evidence being they had a package of condoms in their purse. This puts trans women at even greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV; as they are less likely to use condoms if they can get arrested for it. 

The bottom line is, the criminalization of sex work does not keep women safe; it endangers them. The puritanical and patriarchal control society exerts on women’s bodies must end. Sex Workers rights is a human rights issue, it is a woman’s rights issue, and I call on the city of Elk Grove and the state of California to do the right thing and end the criminalization of sex work.   




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