California, More States Consider Reduced Penalties For Prostitution To Fight Sex Trafficking

Officer speaks with victim of sex trafficking. Courtesy of the FBI

Governor Janet Mills of Maine recently faced a dilemma – whether to sign a bill reducing penalties for those who sell sex. Maine was reportedly the first state to completely decriminalize prostitution, as discussions intensify across the country about the potential to combat human trafficking by decriminalizing prostitution and soliciting.

In San Diego, anti-trafficking advocates and law enforcement are aware of efforts to legalize prostitution. It stands for sex workers who want the same rights as any other worker in the country.

California also faces a different kind of confrontation: Senate Bill 357, which would no longer punish those who would have “strolled in a public place with the intention of prostituting themselves”.

Maine, like San Diego, sits at the crossroads of human trafficking across states and international borders. This state’s bill included elements supported by anti-trafficking advocates: reduced penalties for people who have been sold into the sex trade as well as support in the form of social services and opportunities. .

It would also have increased the penalties for pimps and traffickers who force often vulnerable people into the underground network.

Governor Mills, however, vetoed the legislation after a local organization opposed it, noting that pimps could take advantage of the new system.

“While some hope this bill will protect survivors of human trafficking, a goal I share,” she said, “others fear that sex traffickers will use the decriminalization of human trafficking. prostitution to attract more people to their business “.

Oregon is now the centerpiece of these controversial efforts. This state is also considering repealing the offenses of prostitution, commercial sexual solicitation and the promotion of prostitution.

The legislation was described by KTVZ in Bend, Oregon, as being proposed by an “outside group”. This group, we have found, is Sex worker awareness project, who is very active in the decriminalization effort across the country.

The argument for Oregon’s legislation is that removing penalties would help reduce trafficking, as pimps couldn’t use fear of arrest to keep their victims online. It would help get the victims out of these situations.

Phoenix Calida, media spokesperson for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, said her organization was focusing its efforts on Oregon for the time being. His argument for decriminalization is that “it is not effective to just lock people up for prostitution”.

The decriminalization effort was boosted earlier this year when Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has ordered prosecution for prostitution-related offenses to stop, and now lawmakers across the country are considering possible legislation. It was also pushed as part of an effort to support the rights of sex workers.

Another advocate for decriminalization, active in California and elsewhere, is the Washington, DC-based organization. Collective action for safe spaces, who has campaigned for several years for the decriminalization of prostitution. Their argument is that “sex work is not the same as sex trafficking”.

Regardless of the claims regarding the legalization of prostitution, when it comes to trafficking, “it’s not a real solution to the problem,” said Kathi Hardy. She runs the San Diego Survivor Leader Network, which has “human trafficking survivors working together to help communities in San Diego” respond to “modern day slavery.”

Hardy is a recovering sex industry survivor and addict who has dedicated the past 20 years of her life to helping others trapped in “life” on the streets of San Diego. She sees her role as helping to “eliminate women’s dependence on” life “as well as their other addictions. ”

She points out that studies done in Europe involving hundreds of women in several countries found that full decriminalization is not a way to reduce pressure on women or to combat sex trafficking

Previous attempts to legalize prostitution in California ended up in federal court where a judicial panel ruled in 2018 that laws prohibiting prostitution were in the public interest.

But its battle is not over, say supporters of efforts across the country to decriminalize prostitution and soliciting. They believe that decriminalization will provide strong support in the fight against sex trafficking.

Hardy said his experiments, and what the research has shown is the answer, is to severely punish buyers and traffickers and provide an exit strategy for prostitutes. For her, the main thing was and continues to be that “the sex industry is not work, it is exploitation; it is the oldest farm in the world.

JW August is a San Diego-based digital and broadcast journalist. August has been reporting on sex and labor trafficking for twenty years and is a member of the board of directors of the Bilateral Coalition of Security Corridors.

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