Sex Workers and COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility in Washington State

As COIVD-19 vaccines become available in limited supply, it is essential that we prioritize people who are especially at risk for acquiring or spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, for vaccination. We believe that sex workers and people in the sex trade are at an elevated risk for contracting coronavirus because many of us continue to work, usually indoors, in cars, or other closed locations, often without the benefit of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), with members of the public.

Washington State Department of Health recognizes this. In COVID-19 Vaccine Prioritization Guidance and Interim Allocation Framework published on January 20, 2021, sex workers are listed among workers in various areas who “are at high risk.”

People working in jails and prisons, health workers, front line workers, pharmacists, restaurant and grocery workers, utility workers, critical infrastructure workers, contact tracing professionals, public transport workers, volunteer firefighters, people who work in hospitals, parks and recreation staff, hatchery staff, long-term care workers, farmworkers, sex workers, veterinarians and veterinary staff are at increased risk. Child care workers, school staff and nurses, teachers, and workers who leave their children in congregate child care, and other workers that are exposed to people or work in settings where proper safety precautions aren’t taken are at high risk. [Note: emphasis added]

It also states:

Sex workers are at risk when seeing clients, which disproportionately impacts queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

However, that has not translated to putting sex workers on the State’s current COVID-19 vaccination roadmap.

Vaccine Phases in WA

As of today, State of Washington is vaccinating people who fall under categories 1A (workers in health care setting, first responders, long-term care facility residents) and 1B tier 1 (people 65 or older, people who are 50 and older and live in multigenerational households). As more people in these categories are vaccinated and vaccine availability continue to grow, people in the rest of 1B categories and beyond will become eligible.

None of the categories that have been established so far appears to cover sex workers as a whole, though individual sex workers may already qualify under 1A or 1B1 classification or become eligible under other categories soon. For example, sex workers who are also health care workers or sex workers who are older would already qualify. Some sex workers doing harm reduction public health outreach (street outreach, needle exchange, etc.) to other sex workers have received vaccination as health care workers, which includes everyone who works at health care settings, not just doctors and nurses, and includes volunteers as well as employees.

Some sex workers consider themselves health are workers similar to massage therapists and counselors. The government will not say that this is the case, but it has not stated that sex workers are not health care workers either–and that is a good thing. Everyone has to make their own judgment as to whether or not they qualify and answer questions honestly on Washington State’s Phase Finder to self-certify their eligibility and then sign up for an appointment. Completing the Phase Finder will lead to a screen you can use as a proof of eligibility, and none of the people we know who have already received the vaccine said that their eligibility was ever questioned or verified by someone else (although your mileage may vary–please let us know if you experience any problems).

Dangerous environment sex workers and people in the sex trade operate under is not inevitable. When the pandemic hit, front-line essential workers continue to work with PPEs while others began working remotely or took generous unemployment insurance to stay home, watch Netflix and bake banana bread. But none of these options were realistic for many sex workers: masks and other PPEs baffled clients (they have hard enough time agreeing to condoms) and doing remote sex work (i.e. camming) isn’t for everybody nor is it realistic when you have kids doing schoolwork from home.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was designed to provide benefits to gig economy workers, self-employed individuals, and those who work as independent contractors for the first time. Many sex workers fit under these categories, but found it virtually impossible to receive financial support as it was difficult to prove lost income and meet other requirements. Dancers whose work is completely legal and could produce records of paying house fees (money charged by the clubs to dancers to “rent” the stage) had a slightly better luck accessing PUA, but also faced denials and unconscionably low benefit amount.

Sex workers are also categorically excluded from Small Business Administration loan programs that were created to support small businesses, independent contractors, and self-employed folks because services they provide is of “prurient sexual nature.” These explicit and implicit exclusions in the nation’s pandemic relief efforts are what left many sex workers and people in the sex trade without any option other than continuing to work during the pandemic at great risk to themselves, their families, and everyone else.

We will continue to monitor what happens in the vaccine rollout. Please share your experiences with receiving or not receiving vaccines and how you are working to reduce risks at work.

(Thx to Justice from Reframe Health and Justice for bringing us in to this conversation.)

Police Reform Bills in 2021 Washington State Legislature We Like & Those We Meh

Washington State’s 2021 legislative session is to begin next Monday, January 11th, which will hold public testimonies remotely via Zoom. Remote meeting has its own problems, but hopefully this will make it easier for more people who live outside of Olympia and surrounding areas to voice their opinions.

One of the themes of this year’s legislative session will be police reform and accountability. There are many pre-filed bills already that address this theme, and there will be more. Here is the list of stuff we like (mostly from our Black and POC representatives and senators!) as well as those not so much.


Stuff we like:

HB 1054 Establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers

Sponsored by Representatives Jesse Johnson and Debra Entenman, HB 1054 prohibits certain police tactics historically used in racially disproportionate ways, such as chokeholds, neck restraint, and the use of police dogs to arrest people, along with the use of tear gas and other military equipment such as acoustic weapons and armed drones. It also prohibits police officers from concealing their badge number. A public hearing will be held on Tuesday, January 12th at 8amclick here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

HB 1082 / SB 5051 Concerning state oversight and accountability of peace officers and corrections officers

Companion bills HB 1082 sponsored by Representatives Roger Goodman and Jesse Johnson and SB 5051 sponsored by Senators Jamie Pedersen and Manka Dhingra strengthen the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, giving it greater authority to decertify and deny employment for police officers who commit misconduct, including failure to intervene and report another officer’s misconducts. Public hearing for HB 1082 is scheduled for Friday, January 15th at 10am; for SB 5051, it is Monday, January 18th at 10amclick here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

HB 1092 Concerning law enforcement data collection

Representatives John Lovick and Roger Goodman proposed HB 1092, which requires collection and reporting of police data, including incidents that result in police conduct causing death or injury, as well as uses of firearms, chokehold or neck restraint, tear gas and other “less lethal” weapons, or unleashed police dogs. A public hearing will be held on Thursday, January 14th at 1:30pmclick here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

SB 5055 Concerning law enforcement personnel collective bargaining

Senators Joe Nguyen and Rebecca Saldaña sponsored SB 5055 which will prohibit municipalities from entering into collective bargaining agreement with police unions that would prevent or undermine these municipalities from establishing or implementing civilian review board to hold misbehaving officers accountable. Public hearings for both SB 5055 and SB 5134 will be held on Thursday, January 14th at 8amclick here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

SB 5134 Enhancing public trust and confidence in law enforcement and strengthening law enforcement accountability for general authority Washington peace officers, excluding department of fish and wildlife officers.

Similar to SB 5055 above, SB 5134 sponsored by Senators Jesse Salomon and Jeannie Darneille prohibits collective bargaining agreements with law enforcement officers unions that hinders municipalities’ ability to hold officers accountable, such as mandatory “waiting period” before officers are interviewed about use of force, and many other clauses common in police contracts. Public hearings for both SB 5055 and SB 5134 will be held on Thursday, January 14th at 8amclick here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

SB 5067 / HB 1088 Concerning potential impeachment disclosures

Cryptically titled, SB 5067 (sponsored by Senetor Manka Dhingra) and HB 1088 (sponsored by Representatives John Lovick and Roger Goodman) deal with police officers who are unreliable witnesses due to misconduct. They would require law enforcement agencies to disclose any information they have about officers’ misconduct that may affect their credibility as prosecution-side witnesses to prosecutor’s office in jurisdictions where they may be called to testify. Prosecutors are (theoretically) then required to provide any such information to the defense, under Brady v. Maryland U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


Stuff we meh:

SB 5089 Concerning peace officer hiring and certification

Sponsored by Senators Patty Kuderer and Jamie Pedersen, SB 5089 makes several changes to the basic requirement for someone being certified and hired as police officers. In particular, it rewards applicants who are proficient in a language other than English, has experiences in the peace corps, AmeriCorps, domestic violence counseling, or other social service profession, or those who have completed crisis intervention program with extra points in the qualification score, similar in fashion to veterans receiving preferences when they apply for public employment.

HB 1089 / SB 5069 Concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies

Companion bills HB 1089 (sponsored by Representatives Bill Ramos and Roger Goodman) and SB 5069 (sponsored by Senator Manka Dhingra) authorize state auditor to review if any investigation involving the use of deadly force was conducted in accordance with rules and procedures by the police, prosecutors, and others that participated in the investigation. A public hearing is scheduled on January 14th at 1:30pm–click here to learn how to testify remotely or submit written testimony.

SB 5066 Concerning a peace officer’s duty to intervene

Similar to SB 5051 above, SB 5066 sponsored by Senators Manka Dhingra and Mona Das addresses police officers’ duty to intervene and report when they witness wrongdoing committed by their colleagues, but unlike SB 5051 this one merely requires adaptation of internal written policies on the duty to intervene within police departments as well as the development of basic training on it.


Outright non-solutions:

HB 1001 Establishing a law enforcement professional development outreach grant program

Representatives Jacquelin Maycumber (the only Republican mentioned on this page) and John Lovick sponsored HB 1001 laments how law enforcement agencies struggle to recruit and retain police officers due to “community distrust of law enforcement.” This bill proposes to solve the supposed problem of well-deserved community distrust by giving more money to law enforcement agencies to establish “outreach” programs to underrepresented communities to encourage them to become police officers. We try to be objective and not so opinionated on this page, but yuk.


We will keep this page updated as these bills advance (or not) or more bills are introduced.

Let us know what you are thinking!

Seattle Unanimously Repeals Prostitution & Drug Traffic Loitering Laws

Seattle City Council has just unanimously approved a pair of bills repealing prostitution loitering and drug traffic loitering laws after dozens sex workers and allies gave testimonies in support. We have been working on this issue since 2018, meeting with Councilmembers as well as folks from Seattle City Attorney’s Office, and it feels really good to hear so many of our sex worker and ally friends speaking out and see the entire Council agreeing with us today.

Both ordinances have negatively impacted communities of color, but prostitution loitering law in particular have been used as a pretext for the Seattle Police Department to profile young women of color as suspected “prostitutes,” leading to unnecessary and unwarranted police interactions, background checks, unconsented and possibly illegal searches, harassment, and other harms. The City’s own Reentry Workgroup released a report to the Council in October 2018 which recommended repealing these ordinances because they disproportionately target communities of color based on who and where they are.

During the Council discussion, Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and others pointed out that it would be incorrect to say that these ordinances are “outdated.” To say so implies that they served a worthwhile purpose at some point in the past before they became obsolete since then. The truth is, they always had racially disparate impact and have always been wrong, serving no good purpose worth defending.

But the Council needs to go further. As long as the crime of prostitution (offering sex in exchange for money or other items of value) remains on the books, even if it is rarely prosecuted, similar profiling and harassment of young women of color will continue. Further, the City needs to stop the police from enforcing SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) and SODA (Stay Out of Drug Areas) orders, which are used exactly the same way as the loitering ordinances against exactly the same population despite having no basis in Seattle Municipal Code.

Also during the discussion, Councilmember Tammy Morales expressed willingness to work with sex workers (yes she used the phrase multiple times) to decriminalize sex work in Seattle so that sex workers and people in the sex trade can be safer and have access to emergency assistance. Other Councilmembers also committed to continue working with sex workers to improve safety and health for people in the sex trade. We are excited to be involved in these future conversations.

We also want to respond to a point made by a couple of people who identified themselves as survivors of trafficking and testified in opposition to repealing the loitering ordinances. Their concern was that repealing prostitution loitering ordinance would also prevent “johns” or buyers of sex, whom they consider perpetrators of harm against people in the sex trade, from being arrested or charged with prostitution loitering.

We generally believe that criminalization of clients of sex workers for purchasing sex from a consenting adult diminishes safety for people in the sex trade, but that beside the point here. Prostitution loitering ordinance has been used disproportionately against men of color (as suspected sex buyers) as well as cis and trans women of color (as suspected “prostitutes”), both for being in the wrong place as someone of a wrong race and gender, and therefore it needs to be abolished for that reason regardless of what one believes about paying for sex. Nothing in the bills passed today will legalize or decriminalize buying sex, human trafficking, or sexual violence in any way. That said, their voices belong at the policy table and we hope they will be part of future conversations about keeping our communities safe without over-reliance on the violent police system.

Thank you for your continued support, and thank you to POC SWOP/Green Light Project, UTOPIA-Seattle, Surge Reproductive Justice, Legal Voice, Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, and other allies as well! Join our email list by contacting us or follow our facebook page for future updates.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes endorses repeal of prostitution and drug loitering laws

Seattle City Councilmembers Andrew Lewis and Tammy Morales have proposed bills to repeal the City’s prostitution loitering and drug traffic loitering ordinances last week. Councilmember Alex Pederson joined them in co-sponsoring the prostitution loitering repeal bill, but not the drug traffic one. Then this week, a press release was posted on the City Council website which states that these anti-loitering laws are “outdated” and that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes is now on board with the repeal bills.

Prostitution and drug loitering laws have been used to profile Black, indigenous and people of color. In North Seattle especially, prostitution loitering law has been used by the Seattle Police Department to stop and harass young women of color who are walking down the street. The SPD would have to conduct a sting or catch someone in the act in order to go after prostitution, but anyone can be “suspected” of prostitution loitering without any specific evidence, which results in harassment, background checks, (often illegal) search of one’s belongings, and arrests not usually for prostitution or prostitution loitering but from active warrants or some other charges.

City’s own Reentry Workgroup made a recommendation to repeal prostitution and drug loitering laws when it released its final report in October 2018. The workgroup pointed out “disastrous racialized impact” of these policies, and how criminalizing prostitution “exacerbate[s] any underlying needs” of people in the sex trade, exposing them to “further physical and sexual harm caused by incarceration.” The report also points out that prostitution loitering laws “disproportionately impact” “cisgender and transgender women of color,” and “many women who are participating in legal, routine activities are arrested […] and must be then be put in a position to testify against police and have their word be weighed against a law enforcement officer.”

Immediately after the Reentry Workgroup report was made public, we along with many other sex worker activists and advocates met with Holmes’ staff, City Councilmembers, and other officials to demand that the City follow the Workgroup’s recommendations, but they were slow to act on it due to resistance from the police and prosecutors. It now appears that prostitution and drug loitering laws suddenly became “outdated” to our City leaders over the past two weeks–a clear sign that an era has shifted thanks to the ongoing nationwide uprising for Black lives and against racist criminal justice system.

The City has not published its agenda for the next Council meeting, but it is likely that it will come up for discussion during its regular meeting on Monday, June 22nd. Please contact us to join our email list to be notified of an opportunity to testify in support of the bill.

We welcome Holmes’ come-around on this issue, but we continue to demand that prostitution law itself (12A.10.020) repealed. After all, Reentry Workgroup’s statement about harms of anti-prostitution laws applies not just to the prostitution loitering law but also to the criminalization of prostitution in general. Since 2012, Holmes has claimed that the City was pursuing charges against buyers of sex instead of “those caught up” in the sex trade, but arrests of mostly young women of color have spiked last summer, which was condemned by all leading anti-violence organizations in Washington State as a form of “gender-based violence.”

In addition, Seattle and King County need to end SOAP (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) and SODA (Stay Out of Drug Areas) orders that function the same way as the loitering laws (racial profiling, overpolicing). SOAP and SODA are large swaths of neighborhoods in Seattle and King County that a judge can exclude someone from. Many cities in King County have them including Seattle, even though it’s not codified in the Seattle Municipal Code.

Like prostitution and drug traffic loitering laws, SOAP/SODA are being used to stop people of color for suspicion that they are where they are not supposed to be. Even if someone hasn’t actually been issued SOAP/SODA orders, they can be stopped, harassed, background checked, and searched. In other words: repealing prostitution and drug traffic loitering laws won’t stop the racial profiling and harassment of communities of color because the same exact thing can go on under the guise of SOAP/SODA enforcement. We need to end them all.

We also support other criminal justice reform initiatives, including Defund the Seattle Police Department and upcoming campaign to decriminalize personal possession of all drugs modeled after Oregon’s Initiatve Petition 44.

Seattle: Uprising’s early victories & further opportunities to participate

As many of you know, things are happening at the Seattle City Hall and around the country as a direct result of #BlackLivesMatter organizing in response to the police murders of George Floyd and countless other Black and indigenous people. For example, here is a (very partial) list of victories documented by Chicago-based activist collective Rampant: Rebellions Get Results: A List So Far (note this post was written on June 8th, and there have been many more victories since then, not to mention victories before June 8th that were not included in the list!)

In seattle, here are some of the victories that we are aware of:

  1. Mayor Durkan issued curfews to stop demonstrations, but demonstrations continued and she was forced to withdraw the curfew.
  2. Mayor ordered a 30-day moratorium on the use of tear gas. The order came with the caveat that Chief Best could still order its use if she felt the necessity, which she did just a couple of days ago, but still both leaders faced criticisms for going back on their promises.
  3. City of Seattle is withdrawing a lawsuit against King County which had prevented inquest into killing of civilians by the police for the last two years.
  4. City of Seattle withdraws its petition to be free from federal oversight placed on its police forces due to patterns of racial profiling and civil rights violations.
  5. Peaceful demonstrators persisted in Capitol Hill for over a week despite being attacked by the police with chemical weapons, flash bangs, stan grenades, etc. and forced SPD to retreat, creating what became known as Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or Capitol Hill Occupied/Organized Protest.
  6. Seattle City Council unanimously passed a resolution rebuking President Trump’s threat to send in active duty military to Seattle.
  7. Chief Best ordered officers to stop concealing badge numbers with “mourning bands.” They did not follow the order, so the City Council is working on a legislation.
  8. City of Seattle agreed to transfer old fire station in Central District to the local African American community to use as a community center.
  9. City Council unanimously passes Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s bills to ban the use of chokehold by police officers and the ownership, purchase, rent, storage, or use of “crowd control weapons” such as tear gas and flash bangs. (Updated 6/15/2020)
  10. City Council unanimously passes Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s bill to prohibit police officers from covering their badge numbers. (Updated 6/15/2020)
  11. City council unanimously passes a bill proposed by Councilmembers Lewis, Pederson, and Morales that repeals the crime of prostitution loitering (which the SPD has used to profile and harass women of color). (Updated 6/22/2020)
  12. City Council unanimously passes a bill sponsored by Councilmembers Lewis and Morales that repeals the crime of drug traffic loitering. (Updated 6/22/2020)

Do you have more? Please send it to us so we can add to this list!

In addition, the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade has endorsed “Defund Seattle Police” campaign, which seeks to immediately cut at least 50% of SPD budget to fund community-based programs that prioritize health and safety strategies and free all protesters arrested during the recent protests. If you agree, please sign on to the campaign as an individual or as an organization.

Not another bs PR statement about #BlackLivesMatter

It’s been a rough week of sadness and outrage. I am forced to be in quarantine to avoid coronavirus because I have many compromising medical conditions but every day I’ve been following many of my friends fight for systemic changes we seek, whether they are on the street or online. I feel heavy yet hopeful that this time, the national uprising will lead to lasting movement toward a more just society. When the coronavirus is sufficiently contained or vaccine becomes available, I anticipate that the struggle for racial justice and liberation of Black and other marginalized people will still be ongoing, and I look forward to joining you out there.

On behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade, I signed on to the call to Defund the Seattle Police Department, which demands the City of Seattle to: 1. defund Seattle Police Department (at least 50% of $363 already budgeted for SPD); 2. fund community-based health and safety initiatives that diminish reliance on the police to solve social problems; and 3. drop charges against protesters. You can join the call as an individual or as an organization by clicking on the link below:

http://tinyurl.com/defundSPD (individual)
http://tinyurl.com/defundspdorg (organization)

As the subject of this post says, I am getting fed up with bunch of self-serving PR statements arriving on my inbox from corporations and organizations expressing support for Black lives that do not reflect their day-to-day operations. Today, I received an email from a local (predominantly white, police-friendly) “anti-trafficking” coalition soliciting donations to themselves, claiming that their mission aligns with the goals of Black Lives Matter, after years of promoting more policing and prosecution of those involved in sex trade which further criminalize Black, indigenous, and people of color. They even quote a white academic “expert” who equates prostitution to slavery, comparing their white supremacist carceral politics to actual abolitionists who fought against American chattel slavery and continue to fight against the unjust criminal justice system and the Prison Industrial Complex. And of course they had to stress that they only supported “peaceful” protest by doubly emphasizing the word “peaceful” by italicizing and then underlining the word. This is opportunistic and shameful. You cannot promote carceral approach to social problems and then claim to be in the movement for Black lives at the same time.

I hesitated making a formal statement on behalf of the Coalition for Rights & Safety about recent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many other Black men and women that we have not even heard about because so many of those statements are fake and I wanted to focus on mourning and fighting and supporting my friends rather than taking part in the PR fray. But when I saw anti-trafficking organizations using the national attention to their own advantage, I had to say something. But this is not just a statement; we commit to continue prioritizing the rights and safety for the most marginalized sex workers and people in the sex trade, especially sex workers who are Black, indigenous, or people of color, sex workers who are trans, are immigrants, are disabled, and/or lack housing.

Thank you for being in the movement with us. Please call me if you want to talk more about how we can continue to (and better) advocate for Black lives and the lives of other marginalized communities.

Emi Koyama
The Coordinatrix
Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade

Also read:

You Can’t Say Black Lives Matter Without Including Black Sex Workers by Suprihmbé
Stop Calling Human Trafficking “Modern Day Slavery”

Washington’s leading organizations addressing gender-based violence denounce arrests of women in the sex trade as "gender-based violence"

After insisting that Seattle treats people involved in the sex trade as victims of “sexual exploitation” (which the City’s law calls what used to be “patronizing a prostitute”) for the past several years, Seattle Police Department has reversed its course and began arresting women working along Aurora Avenue in North Seattle in large numbers since this past July, as CrossCut reported last week.

We are working with our allies to fight against this recent move by the SPD by supporting the ongoing outreach effort on Aurora by POC-SWOP via its Green Light Project and organizing to promote policies based on harm reduction and human rights.

As part of such collaborative efforts, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) along with Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP), Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and women’s rights legal advocacy organization Legal Voice jointly issued a statement today protesting the arrests targeting women working on the street, stating: “Threat of arrest and incarceration is no way to help victims or populations vulnerable to exploitation and violence. We must be clear: the targeting of these women for arrest by police perpetuates gender-based violence.”

Full statement follows below. Stay tuned for our continuing work challenging the latest development in the state violence targeting people in the sex trade.

#####

Open Letter from Gender-Based Violence Organizations Regarding Sex Trade Arrests in Seattle

October 9, 2019

Dear Mayor Durkan and Members of the Seattle City Council,

We are leading organizations in Washington State working to end sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence. We are deeply disturbed by the news, reported last week, that the Seattle Police Department has apparently abandoned existing policy on prostitution enforcement and resumed the practice of routinely arresting women in the sex trade in North Seattle.

As organizations with many decades of experience supporting survivors of violence and their communities, we feel compelled to denounce this practice. Threat of arrest and incarceration is no way to help victims or populations vulnerable to exploitation and violence. We must be clear: the targeting of these women for arrest by police perpetuates gender-based violence.

We call on city leadership to meaningfully invest in services and alternatives to arrest and incarceration as responses to the sex trade, and to immediately put a stop to these arrests. The City of Seattle can, and must, do better.

Sincerely,

Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC)
Legal Voice
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP)
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV)

Logos

New protections for sex workers just went into effect in Washington State (so let’s monitor compliance)

On July 28th, 2019, many laws passed by the Washington State legislature earlier this year went into effect, including two laws our community supported: HB 1382 (emergency access) and HB 1756 (dancer safety). Here are what you need to know about these new laws and a request for our dancer friends:
HB 1382 provides immunity for prosecution for prostitution and prostitution loitering charges when we are victims or witnesses of certain violent crimes and seek emergency assistance (medical and police). It is intended to make it easier for sex workers and people in the sex trade to report crimes and seek support, but there are some limitations. They are:

  • It only applies to violent crimes. In other words, it does not offer any protection when someone is reporting medical emergencies unrelated to violent crimes. What constitutes a “violent crime” is described in the law, but nobody can be expected to remember that list.
  • The law provides immunity from prosecution, but not from arrest.
  • It does not protect someone from other charges, including promoting prostitution in the second degree (which sometimes is applied to sex workers working in a pair or friends and family members who provide transportation and other support).

The survey we conducted last year showed deep mistrust of the law enforcement among sex workers and people in the sex trade, so we feel that HB 1382 is not sufficient to make many of us feel safe to report crimes or seek emergency assistance when we experience emergencies. Please keep telling us about what it would take to make this law more effective.

HB 1756 does many things, all of which are geared toward empowering dancers who work in strip clubs to protect their safety. These include:

  • The State Department of Labor and Industry will develop a training for adult entertainers (dancers), which will be required before entertainer license can be issued. The training will include rights and responsibilities of workers, reporting of workplace injuries, sexual abuse and harassment, financial management, risk of human trafficking, and resources for assistance. (This portion will go into effect in July 2020.)
  • Clubs are required to provide panic button in private (VIP) booths and anywhere else where a dancer would be alone with a customer.
  • Clubs must record worker complaints about assault and harassment committed by customers. If an accusation is made under the penalty of perjury or is supported by other evidences, the club must refuse the customer for three years after the incident. Other clubs owned by the same owner must also exclude the customer for three years.
  • The Department of Labor and Industry will form an advisory committee to assist with the implementation of the new law, including developing the training. At least half of the committee members must be former or current entertainers who held license for at least five years, and at least one will be an industry representative (the boss). The committee can consider and recommend further legislations to improve dancer safety. (The advisory committee has yet to be formed as of now.)

Many of these provisions are hard to monitor for compliance, but there is at least one that can be easily verified: the panic button. If you work at a strip club, please go and find out if the management has installed a panic button in each area where dancers may be alone with a customer. If it’s possible, ask someone what happens when the button is pressed: Does it actually work? Who will be alerted and will respond to the scene? Please let us know what you find out–we just want to see the level of compliance with the new requirement, and we will not report it to the State or anyone else unless you ask us to. Thank you for your help!

If you are interested in future legislative advocacy, please contact us! Our monthly meetings are open to anyone who support safety and rights for sex workers and people in the sex trade.

Rescue Hurts: real-life consequences of SPD’s raids on massage parlors & how to actually support migrant women workers

Rescue Hurts: real-life consequences of SPD’s raids on massage parlors
& how to actually support migrant women workers

DATE: August 8th, 2019
TIME: 6-8pm
LOCATION: Bertha Knight Landes Room, Seattle City Hall (600 4th Ave.)

In February 2019, Seattle Police Department raided eleven so-called “Asian” massage parlors in the City’s Chinatown/International District and Beacon Hill, “rescuing” 26 Chinese-speaking women from the scourge of sex trafficking, according to media reports.

But the reality of such large-scale raid is that of displacement, loss of income, housing, community, and personal belongings (including identity documents and cash savings), trauma, and abandonment. Almost none of the women qualify for trafficking-specific services or visa relief because their individual circumstances are more complicated than Hollywood image of “modern day slavery.”

In this grass-roots community event, we bring to you international expert Elene Lam of Butterfly, a Toronto-based support and advocacy group led by and for Asian and migrant sex workers, as well as local advocates from API Chaya and other organizations outreaching to and supporting refugee and migrant women who work at massage parlors.

Come learn about real-life consequences of SPD’s “rescue” missions on massage parlors and find out how to actually support migrant women workers.

Sponsored by API Chaya, CID Coalition, Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade, Pacific Rim Solidarity Network, Seattle LGBTQ Commission, and SWOP-Seattle.
Questions? Contact us!

Ms. Lam is also giving a training on supporting migrant massage parlor workers earlier on the same day. If you are a service provider or community leader (Asian American, sex worker, or other communities) and interested in attending the training, please see our EventBrite page.
Download PDF flier here

Support Aileen’s, our new community organizing and hospitality space for women working along the Pac Hwy

Aileen’s is a new peer-centered organizing and hospitality space for women working along the Pac Hwy. This is the area south of Seattle stretching from around SEATAC airport to the south end of King County that is home to many women who trade sex and where Gary Ridgeway, a.k.a. Green River Killer, sought his victims.

We are fed up with the lack of services and resources for empowerment in south King County. Pressing concerns include homelessness, legal issues, CPS involvement, substance use problems, domestic violence, police harassment and brutality, sexual assault and harassment, racism, transphobia, among others.

Women along the Pac Hwy need a safe place to get off the street, even for temporarily, a place to get and give support without being hated or judged, a place to share safety information like the bad date line and receive life saving harm reduction tools.

We are currently forming a steering committee of peers to guide Aileen’s as we envision and create our space. Initial plans include a kitchenette with hot drinks and snacks, a dressing room and clothes closet, lounge area, computer and phone access, and an office space offering peer counseling, harm reduction and overdose prevention services, and community resources and referrals.

Aileen’s is by and for women in the sex trade, women who are homeless or unstably housed, women doing survival sex, coming out of prison, having their kids taken by CPS, struggling to make ends meet, as well as women with former lived experience, and sex workers from all walks of life. We welcome volunteers/allies willing to complete our training.

Please support the work of Aileen’s by making a generous donation online at www.gofundme.com/aileens or to: Church of Harm Reduction, PO Box 3484, Federal Way, WA 98063. Aileen’s is a joint project of community groups including Church of Harm Reduction and Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade.

Also: Join Aileen’s Open House on May 7th at 6-9pm. Please visit www.aileens.org or email info@aileens.org for location.