In Salem to testify against 4082. I dropped the ball on this because so much else was happening, but if you want to call the OR Senate judiciary committee today and tell them to table 4082, that would be great.
Criminalizing sex work has major health consequences for sex workers. Criminalization has repeatedly been tied to negative outcomes for sex workers in the United States and globally. The Lancet medical journal editorial board identified criminalization as a major cause of HIV/AIDS transmission. Other research has tied criminalization, and the social stigma it generates, to other negative health outcomes for sex workers including a greater risk of cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections, physical and sexual victimization, and even homicide.
Criminalizing sex work, including associated third parties (such as clients, managers, or pimps) does not improve personal safety. As noted above, criminalization has been directly linked to increased rates of physical and sexual violence, including homicide, among sex workers. Perhaps the most notable example of how criminalization harms sex workers comes from Sweden’s “end demand” laws (often called “the Swedish Model”). Though HB 4082 is not explicitly include “end demand” legislation, the same goal– a desire to curb sex trafficking through criminalization– permeates both. In a scathing report, the U.N. Global Commission on HIV and the Law concluded the end demand model “has not improved [but] worsened the lives of sex workers.” The commissioners point to other studies suggesting the law has actually led to increased violence against sex workers, and deteriorating the relationship between sex workers, who want to maintain a client base, and law enforcement, who want to prosecute clients. This tension has led to a nearly non-existent conviction rate: “In spite of over 2,000 arrests, only 59 clients have been reported suspected of buying occasional sex. Only two have been convicted, after pleading guilty. No one has been jailed, and only low fines have been imposed, as per the law. Evidence to prove a crime is nearly unattainable. Workers do not consider themselves to be victims and are almost always unwilling to testify against their clients.”
Criminalizing sex work and third parties disproportionately impacts the most marginalized, including poor women, communities of color and LGBT individuals. The distribution of criminal penalties have long been understood to be unequal in their application. In the United States, this has meant that already vulnerable populations often suffer the most harm under new efforts to criminalize behavior.
Poor women: Three year ago, the Denver-based Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking examined how prostitution laws were enforced. Women were three times as likely to serve jail time as their male counterparts (a category that included clients and third parties), face area restrictions, and not be offered less severe penalties (such as fines or community service). Personal histories of drug abuse or criminal histories did not explain these sentencing disparities.
Communities of Color: Communities of color are also disproportionately impacted by prostitution criminalization. An analysis of prostitution arrests rates in three North Carolina cities found that Black women were arrested at rates 2.5-5.5 times their actual presence within the commercial sex work industry. The authors concluded “[o]ur analysis suggests that in these cities, law enforcement’s focus on outdoor prostitution appears to result in black females being arrested for prostitution at higher rates than their white counterparts and at rates disproportionate to their presence in online advertisements for indoor prostitution. Communities of color are also disproportionately impacted by legislation that targets traffickers. Currently, two-thirds (66.7%) of the individuals serving federal prison sentences for sex trafficking are African-American or Black men.
LGBT People: Finally, LGBT individuals, particularly transgender women of color, face considerable profiling and fear of arrest under laws that criminalize prostitution. Wide media attention earlier this year highlighted a case in Iowa where hotel workers called police, concerned that two transgender women of color were actually sex workers. The two friends were on their way to a relative’s funder. Beyond anecdotal evidence, statistics back up these findings. In a recent report released by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 68.5% of all transgender women of color reported that they had been arrested and 69.9% had been sent to jail for any reason, most often on the suspicion that they were engaging in sex work. Once charged, the intersections of these identities further worsened their outcome with the criminal justice system. Transgender women of color with a history of sex work were nearly 4 times as likely as their white counterparts to have spent ten or more years of their life incarcerated. Further expanding the definition of sex work to include “goods and services” will further exacerbate these disparities.
Criminalizing third parties shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between sex workers and managers (pimps). Though the purported purpose of this bill is to reduce sex trafficking (particularly that of children) the bill’s sponsors have not provided any empirical evidence to support this claim. Mostly, that is because the most exhaustive studies youth involved in sex work do not support a trafficking narrative. In their studies on youth engaged in sex work in New York City and Atlantic City, New Jersey, John Jay College criminologists Anthony Marcus, Amber Horning, and Chris Thomas found that the majority of the 249 youth they interviewed entered sex work via a friend (49.2%) not a pimp (7.4%). Additionally, the majority of youth involved in the study did not have a pimp; fewer than ten percent had a pimp. This proportion was smallest among youth under 18, of whom, only 1.8% reported having a pimp. More surprisingly, less than half of the total respondents even reported knowing a pimp. The researchers conducted not only a quantitative survey but exhaustive qualitative research on both youth engaged in the sex trade and pimps living in New York City. They concluded “Those [youth] who self-identified as having a pimp typically described relationships that were more mutual and easier to leave than the stereotypes suggest. There are, of course, violent and otherwise abusive pimps […] These findings suggest that roughly 2 percent of all the sex workers whom we interviewed, across both cities, were in a relationship with a predominantly abusive, violent pimp.”
Criminalizing sex workers and third parties actually drives youth involved in sex work away from social services and law enforcement. In the same study, Marcus and colleagues asked youth who they turned to for help in abusive situations. Just 2.4% indicated they would go to a police officer, and even fewer (2.0%) reported they would seek help from a social service agency–largely because of fear of criminalization for themselves and loved ones: “From [the youth’s] perspectives, the anti-trafficking discourses and practices they would encounter in these organizations threaten to criminalize their adult support networks, imprison friends and loved ones, prevent them from earning a living, and return them to the dependencies of childhood. The [Trafficking Victims Protection Act]-inspired institutions and discourses appear to have created an environment in which many young people in trouble are unwilling to access the resources necessary to gain control over their lives and make informed choices about leaving sex work.”