Last Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee of Colorado (US) proposed immunity from prostitution charges for those sex workers who report, as witnesses or as victims themselves, serious crimes, including human trafficking, murder, manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment, and stalking.
The reality for sex workers
In an article in the Denver Post, some of the testimonies shared with the committee indicate why sex workers are so often discouraged from reporting crimes.
Tiara Kelley, a former street-based sex worker, said:
“I can recall a time that I was beat up in a parking lot by a client. It was very brutal. I was all bloody, really beaten badly, and I called the police looking for help,” she said. “The police arrived and they never asked me one single question about the gentleman that beat me up. … They asked me what I did, why I was in the person’s car.”
Even though the Committee includes far-right and leftist members, this bill, known as HB22-1288, seems to be advancing unanimously, and some members expect it to move through the Capitol and be signed into law.
Skepticism on the bill
Many sex workers are skeptical about the impact of this first step because the bill doesn’t propose to eliminate any penalties related to sex work: sex workers are still criminals in the eyes of the law. In Denver alone, since 2016, about 1,000 people have been arrested on prostitution charges.
The Denver Post reports:
Plus, the legislature can’t solve widespread misunderstanding. At the Capitol, in law enforcement and in the general public, false notions that all sex workers are forced into it, and that sex workers cause human trafficking, remain persistent.
That’s part of why some sex workers are glad to see this bill. It is, if nothing else, they say, it’s a rare recognition by people in power of the humanity of this population and of the danger they routinely face.
What’s happening elsewhere in the U.S.?
The Freedom United community is urgently calling on California’s Governor Newsom to sign the Safer Streets for All Act into law, a piece of legislation that will stop potential victims of trafficking and sex workers from facing a criminal record simply for walking on the street.
It will repeal Section 653.22 of California’s penal code — a harmful law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in prostitution. In practice it does little more than harm survivors of trafficking and is applied disproportionately against cis and trans women of color, often working in the sex industry.
Add your voice to the campaign and stand with trafficking survivors and sex workers today.