Sex Workers Join Quest for Democracy Day: Press Release

For immediate release

May 9, 2016,

Contact: Rachel West, US PROStitutes Collective 415 640 4250

Sex Workers Join Quest for Democracy Day. 

Legislators urged to Defend Sex Worker Rights.

 The US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS) and supporters will be in Sacramento May 9 as part of a lobby day led by formerly incarcerated people (FIPS) at the Capitol.

This is the Fourth Annual Quest for Democracy Day, where a 300-strong delegation of FIPs, their families, friends and supporters will meet with lawmakers about legislation that impacts incarcerated people and FIPs such as: voting rights; police accountability; supporting family connections; the rights of incarcerated youth and opposing solitary confinement.

US PROS, an independent organization of sex workers and former sex workers, is supporting these efforts because so many sex workers are sent to jail each year. Repeal of mandatory prison sentences for sex work (SB 1129 Monning D-Carmel) is one target for lobbying. Other concerns are the way in which trafficking law is used to target immigrant sex workers for deportation, discrimination in compensation regulations and mandatory law enforcement-led diversion programs that do nothing to decrease criminalization or help sex workers who want to get out of prostitution.

Specifically US PROS will be lobbying legislators to remove clauses in SB 1110 (Hancock D-Oakland) that establish a LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program for sex workers. Police officers will be given powers to refer sex workers to a treatment program on a first arrest or go to jail.

SB 1110 was drafted without input from sex workers and goes against the demands of the sex worker movement internationally which is for decriminalization. It treats sex work not as a job but as a disease and sex workers not as workers but as offenders in need of treatment and rehabilitation.

Similar programs in other places have not reduced criminalization. In Seattle (used as a model for SB 1110) during a four-month police and FBI undercover operation to clean-up downtown Seattle, hundreds of people were swept into the LEAD program. Giving that many sex workers experience bullying, threats, violence, sexism and racism at the hands of the police (especially women of color, immigrant people, trans and street-based sex workers) how can it be acceptable to put the police in charge of which sex workers get services?

The call for removal of the sex worker aspects of SB 1110 include: Black Trans Lives Matter; Red Umbrella Project; Coyote, Rhode Island; Erotic Services Providers Union; Kate Zen, Migrant Sex Workers Project, Canada; English Collective of Prostitutes. Their efforts thus far have been endorsed by All of Us or None; Empower Foundation, Thailand; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; Margaret Prescod, Founder, Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders and Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike.

Rachel West, of US PROS said, “Sex workers want an end to arrests but mandatory rehabilitation is not the answer. Rising poverty is increasing the numbers of women, particularly mothers, going into sex work. If people want to help sex workers, fight with us for money and resources so that we can leave prostitution if we want. Existing services have to be overhauled to get rid of those that are punitive, judgmental, or just downright useless. And we need help to get the laws off our backs so we aren’t arrested, criminalized, and imprisoned.”

Our sisters from Empower, a sex worker organization in Thailand commented: “If the right services are provided in the right way then sex workers will access them ourselves. If you need to threaten us with jail in order to make us go, then isn’t it time to reform the services?”

 New Zealand was the first country to decriminalize prostitution in 2003 greatly improving safety and working conditions.  Decriminalization is supported by prestigious international organizations and agencies such as: Amnesty International, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), Human Rights Watch, the Lancet, Open Society Foundation.

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