Dear Senator Hancock,
We write concerning SB 1110, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, in support of removing the clauses in this bill which relate to sex workers.
SB 1110 offensively treats sex work not as work but as a disease, and sex workers not as workers but as offenders in need of treatment and rehabilitation.
Our group, the Sex Workers Outreach Project, includes many current and former sex workers and support personnel who have a direct stake, expertise, and interest in this issue.
Indeed we suspect that the shortcomings in the legislation are present in large part because it was drafted without input from sex workers.
The clauses in SB 1110 that relate to sex work are at odds with the emerging international consensus on decriminalization which has been endorsed by prominent organizations like: Amnesty International, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, WHO, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Human Rights Watch, Lancet, and the Open Society Foundation.
Sex workers in other cities where LEAD and similar programs have been introduced have reported serious problems with the approach currently prescribed by SB 1110. For example, in Seattle (which the bill cites as a model), hundreds of people were swept off the street and into LEAD by a four month police and undercover FBI operation to “clean up” downtown.
The law-enforcement-led LEAD program in SB 1110 puts workers’ access to services in the hands of the police, giving them the power to decide who gets arrested and who goes into the program. It raises the prospect that sex workers could be persecuted if they refuse diversion, and for those who accept entry into LEAD, fails to specify whether charges will remain open in their files if they don’t meet all the conditions dictated by the program, or are kicked out.
Sex workers, especially women, minorities, and transgendered persons, do not feel safe putting their futures into the hands of police, and with good reason. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought law enforcement’s institutionalized racism, and the incestuous relationship between law enforcement and district attorneys to the attention of the world. The Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders in LA, who have been at the forefront of fighting for justice for the scores of black women victims and their families, have protested the racist negligence that allowed these murders to go on for decades. Law enforcement referred to murdered prostitutes and drug addicts with the chilling term NHI (No Humans Involved).
Rising poverty is increasing the numbers of women, particularly mothers, going into sex work. For those who do enter the profession more for reasons of economic necessity than out of a sense of aptitude or calling and want to get out of prostitution, what is needed are resources and opportunities, not punitive rehab programs.
In urging you to remove the clauses that relate to sex workers from SB 1110, we join a number of other sex work and advocacy groups and individuals both in the United States and abroad, including the U.S. Prostitutes Collective, BAYSWAN, Black Trans Lives Matter, COYOTE Rhode Island, the Empower Foundation of Thailand, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the Erotic Services Providers Union, Kate Zen of the Migrant Sex Workers Project of Canada, the Red Umbrella Project, All of Us or None, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Margaret Prescod, Founder, Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike, Sex Worker Outreach Project Los Angeles, and the Youth Justice Coalition.
Thank you for your attention to these problematic aspects of SB 1110. We look forward to hearing what actions you take, and to being invited to have a seat at the table for consideration of any future legislation relating to sex work.
Members of SWOP-Bay, the SF Bay Area chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project