Opposition to California Senate bill SB 1388

US PROStitutes Collective opposes SB 1388 on the following grounds:

Summary of provisions in the bill:

Bill SB1388 would make clients guilty of a misdemeanor for buying sex, punishable by imprisonment in jail for at least 48 hours, but not more than 6 months, and by a fine of at least $1,000, and, if probation is granted, by a fine of at least $1,000, but not more than $50,000, to be deposited in the Victim-Witness Assistance Fund to fund grants to local programs.

If convicted of the above offense with a minor an additional fine of not less than $1,000 and not more than $10,000 would be levied with the moneys going to the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Services Fund to be available for funding child sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking programs.

SB1388 is entitled “Human Trafficking”. It claims to amend sections of the Penal Code that relate to human trafficking. But the first of those sections relates to penalties imposed on adult sex workers’ clients. The second section relates to child prostitution. Neither of these offences are “trafficking” and to label them such is a deliberate and dishonest attempt to mislead.

SB 1388 claims to distinguish between sex workers and clients and implies that the criminalization of clients is being prioritized over the criminalization of sex workers. But sex workers remain illegal under this bill and will continue to be targeted for arrests and prosecution with more women going to overcrowded jails and prisons.  A  new mandatory jail sentence for clients of no less than 48 hours and up to 6 months will increase the numbers of men going to prison.

The issue of child prostitution, abuse and exploitation is used to misrepresent the true purpose of the bill which is yet another crackdown on prostitution – the exchange of sex for money between two consenting adults.

Imposing harsher penalties on sex workers’ clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalization of sex workers.  But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatizing for sex workers.

Crackdowns on clients and the associated furor are likely to lead to increased raids and arrests of sex workers which already disproportionately target women of color including immigrant women.

False claims about trafficking are used to mislead and as a cover for these proposals.  But current trafficking law is primarily used to arrest and deport immigrant women; it has done little or nothing to protect victims of trafficking[1].

Proposals to increase criminalization are led by an unholy alliance of feminist politicians, fundamentalist Christians and government agencies.  Revelations that the FBI, the State and Justice Departments planned initiatives against trafficking and the criminalization of clients with feminists and NGOs funded by big oil, and other corporations, shows how these measures are largely part of a  repressive anti- immigration agenda.[2]

This bill does nothing to address the reasons why women and young people enter the sex industry, namely poverty, lack of jobs, homelessness, racism against immigrant people, and cuts in welfare. Most sex workers are single mothers, struggling to feed our families. Are women less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads? While the bill pretends to be concerned about children in prostitution, it offers nothing in the way of resources (such as welfare and housing) that women and young people need to get out of prostitution or escape from exploitative or violent situations.

Fifty percent of the money collected in fines will be going to non-profits and law-enforcement, giving them a vested interest in the increased criminalization of prostitution, again leading to more arrests and encourages corruption.

Californians Against Slavery, promoters of the bill, are misleading the public by claiming that “studies have shown that stiffer penalties will deter most sex buyers.”[3]Claims that prostitution has reduced in Sweden (where clients were criminalized in 1999) are untrue.Women have moved to border towns or the internet.  Are women driven underground safer or better paid?

New police powers and financial incentives targeting clients in addition to sex workers will be prioritized over the safety and protection of womenand children. Given the dire reality that 97% of rapists already walk free,[4]police resources will be diverted even further away from addressing rape and other violence, towards criminalizing low-income communities of color who already bear the brunt of law enforcement. The severe mandatory fines and jail time for men arrested under the new provisions in this bill will also further persecute these communities.

Sex workers experience high levels of rape and other violence but this does not mean that prostitution is violence. To conflate the two implies that sex workers don’t know the difference between consenting sex and rape. Domestic violence is the most common form of violence; two women a week are killed by their partner or former partner. But, no-one would sensibly propose banning marriage. Existing laws against rape, kidnapping, sexual assault, and child abuse are already on the books and can be applied to situations of violence and exploitation of children.

Most rape and other violence goes unreported because sex workers are afraid to go to the police for fear of arrest and deportation for those of us who are immigrant. This bill will make it harder for women and other sex workers to report violence.

Criminalizing clients disproportionately impacts people of color, police target men of color in street sweeps. This bill will fuel the racial disparities that already exist in jails and prisons, where Black men and other people of color are in the majority. As you are already aware, prison conditions in California are horrific, leading to a widespread sixty-day hunger strike last year by thousands of prisoners protesting solitary confinement and torture.

Californians Against Slavery which is backing SB 1388 states that in LA County “a staggering 59% of the juveniles arrested for prostitution were in foster care.”[5]If this is true then why not look at the relationship between childhood abuse, poverty and institutional care?  Or is it too inconvenient to blame State policies for violence and neglect?  Children leave care without any economic or other support – they are just dumped.  Is it surprising if some end up working as prostitutes to support themselves?  For some young people, prostitution is a way of escaping rape and violence in the home and in institutions. If more focus was put on dealing with this abuse, less young people would end up on the streets.

Finally, the bill proposes to change the definition of prostitution to a “commercial sex act,” altering the meaning of sex work and prostitution. This language gives the impression that exploitation is always involved, by conjuring images of large-scale enterprises, whereas prostitution is the consensual exchange of sex for money between individuals.

New Zealand successfully decriminalized prostitution in 2003.  A government review[i] has shown positive results: no rise in prostitution; women able to report violence without fear of arrest; attacks cleared up more quickly; sex workers more able to leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records; drug users treated as patients not criminals.[ii]  In addition, on December 20, 2013, Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the prostitution laws because they make it “dangerous” for prostitute women and infringe their constitutional rights”.[iii]

We urge you to vote against this draconian and costly bill that will create more harm for women and children, does nothing to protect us from violence, and deprives sex workers of safety.

5 Don Knabe and Daphne Phung. “Bill would target demand side of child sex trafficking: Guest commentary.” Los Angeles Daily News. April 2, 2014. ibid.

[1]   Chang, Grace and Kim, Kathleen, Reconceptualizing Approaches to Human Trafficking: New Directions and Perspectives from the Field(s).

[2]Executive Summary of the National Planning Meeting to Eliminate Demand for Commercial Sex, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 8–May 10, 2010, Sponsored by the Embrey Family Foundation and Hunt Alternatives Fund.

[3] Don Knabe and Daphne Phung. “Bill would target demand side of child sex trafficking: Guest commentary.” Los Angeles Daily News. April 2, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dailynews.com/opinion/20140402/bill-would-target-demand-side-of-child-sex-trafficking-guest-commentary.

[4] Rape, Abuse, and Incest International Network. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/reporting-rates

[i] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/prostitution-law-review-committee

[ii] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/commercial-property-and-regulatory/prostitution/prostitution-law-review-committee/prostitution-law-review-committee


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