Bay Area sex worker groups held a public forum on Proposition 35 and invited Chris Kelly, proponent and billionaire funder of the Proposition to debate with them.
Opposition to Prop 35, also known as the CASE Act (Californians against Sexual Exploitation) which California voters will be voting on in the November 6 election, is growing among politicians, LGBTQ community, sex worker rights groups, anti-trafficking organizations, ex-police involved in anti-trafficking enforcement, faith coalitions and community members, Black/African-American advocacy organizations, women’s rights organizations, statewide anti-prison groups, media outlets, and others.
Prop 35 claims to be about protecting young people from trafficking but organizers of the event say the opposite is true. They want to hear from Chris Kelly about concerns that victims of trafficking will not be helped by this initiative and that sex workers will be put at greater risk of violence.
Rachel West of the US PROStitutes Collective says: “The massive increase in law enforcement as a result of this measure will lead to increased arrests, raids and prosecutions of sex workers. Prostitution will be forced more underground and sex workers, the majority of whom are not being forced or coerced to work, will be deterred from reporting rape and other violence for fear of arrest. There is also a danger that the measure could result in the racist targeting of immigrant sex workers by law enforcement, resulting in more deportations.”
Maxine Doogan, of the Erotic Service Providers Union adds “Prop 35 relies on failed policies that use criminalization as a means to arrest the under-aged all the while calling it rescue; it will open the door to corrupt practices we’ve seen before in drug enforcement.”
Nell Myhand of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike: “Prop 35 gives the police even more leeway to criminalize young Black women. As welfare is cut more single mothers are forced into prostitution. If Prop 35 passes many more mothers will be visiting their children through four inches of plexiglas in prisons. Our children have a right to be valued, cherished, nurtured and respected not imprisoned and labeled sex offenders for life.”
Carol Leigh of BAYSWAN says “The broadened definitions of coercion, combined with new penalties, renders new dangers for sex workers and young people who engage in the sex trade particularly in the context of plea bargaining and other pressures to plead guilty to lesser crimes to avoid the huge prison sentences mandated by the CASE Act.”
Other criticisms of Prop 35 are that there is no provision for direct resources for victims of trafficking, other laws already on the books could be used to more effectively target child traffickers, and that the cost will be too high.
Prop 35 pretends to be about protecting young people from trafficking but instead it:
* Criminalizes, as a trafficker, anyone who assists young people in prostitution — a young person under 21 working with a friend could face prosecution as a trafficker and sex offender status for life, for giving her/him something “of value”.
* Does nothing to help genuine victims – no housing, welfare, or other resources are provided to help victims recover and rebuild their lives. Existing laws on rape, kidnapping and exploitation could be used against violent offenders if there was the will to do so.
* Increases law enforcement, which will result in more raids, prosecutions and imprisonment of sex workers. Pushing prostitution underground leaves sex workers more vulnerable to rape and abuse. Victims of violence will be deterred from reporting for fear of arrest, and for those of us who are immigrant, for fear of deportation.
* Exaggerates the extent of child sex trafficking by using phony statistics; mystifies the rape and abduction of children by calling it “commercial sexual exploitation” and “trafficking”.
* Downgrades the most common forms of trafficking –domestic work, sweat shops, agriculture, restaurants — by creating lower penalties for these labor victims.
* Encourages corruption: police and NGOs will get the money collected in fines, giving them a vested interest in more and more arrests. Victims get no direct funds.
* Allows a massive law enforcement intrusion and invasion of privacy of the internet.
* Promotes a moral crusade by misleading the public and mixing up prostitution, which is consenting sex, with trafficking, which is force, coercion and fraud. A similar crusade against Craigslist deprived sex workers of a way to advertise and work independently.
The event is co-sponsored by: the US PROStitutes Collective; Erotic Service Providers Union; BAYSWAN (Bay Area Sex Workers Advocacy Network); SWOP/Bay Area (Sex Workers Outreach Project).
Endorsers to date: Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike; Pier 5 Law Offices; Queer Strike; California Coalition for Women Prisoners; Legal Action for Women.