Open Letter from Gender-Based Violence Organizations regarding House Bill 1989

Below is an open letter from organizations with decades of experiences addressing gender-based violence, including sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking, expressing concerns about House Bill 1989 which is intended to provide funding for “exit services” for people to leave the sex trade. We support more funding for services for this population, but believe that services should be designed to enhance safety and self-determination, rather than paternalistically push toward “exit.” Text of the open letter as well as links to PDF files of the open letter and our proposed changes follow.


Open Letter from Gender-Based Violence Organizations regarding House Bill 1989

January 24, 2022

Dear Chair Senn and members of the House Children, Youth & Families Committee,

We are leading organizations in Washington working to end sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence. As organizations with many decades of experience supporting survivors of violence and their communities, we support the establishment of more healing services to individuals in the sex trade that will expand the range of options available to them as well as more coordination among organizations providing such services. However, we are concerned that House Bill 1989 limits the scope of services for adults and also that people directly impacted by the law are not centered or included in its implementation.

1. In Section 1(3), healing services are designed to “intervene and prevent further exploitation” and to provide an “exit path from commercial sexual exploitation.” We believe this language creates a barrier to services for many people the bill intends to serve, as most people do not view themselves as “commercially sexually exploited” and may not view “exit” as a viable option at the moment they need or connect with healing services. We believe that offering low-barrier, harm reduction-based services designed to enhance safety and self-determination is the more appropriate, humane and responsible option and that those types of services will create a wider range of options, including the choice to exit sex trade.

2. Throughout the bill, the phrase “commercial sexual exploitation” is used, but without definition and perhaps without fully considering the impact of the term. Existing laws refer to “commercial sexual exploitation” only in reference to minors who are in the sex trade (e.g. RCW 7.68) and not to adults. As such, the bill is a departure from the existing legal framing, and treats adults who are in the sex trade akin to children, denying their agency. Further, when the City of Seattle modified its ordinance to rename the misdemeanor crime of “patronizing a prostitute” to “commercial sexual exploitation” a while back, it led to unintended consequences including prejudicial treatment in immigration determinations.

Additional language in Sec. 1(4)(d) specifically excludes the community most knowledgeable about the needs of people working in the sex trade. The bill’s mandate to involve “diverse community representatives who have lived experience of exiting commercial exploitation” in the development of the request for proposals unfortunately excludes and silences people who are currently in the sex trade, despite the fact they are the intended recipients of services it will fund. For the greatest success, we believe people closest to the issue should be included in the policy development and implementation, especially in the coordination efforts of healing and transition centers. (A separate bill, Senate Bill 5793 seeks to provide stipends to low-income or underrepresented community members to participate in state committees, which will help people in the sex trade have a voice in the process.)

We hope to continue to dialogue with the members of the committee to address our concerns and make the bill better.


API Chaya
Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence
Coalition for Rights & Safety for People in the Sex Trade
Gender Justice League
Legal Voice
Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence

PDF version of this open letter here
Proposed changes to HB 1989 here

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.

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.


Earlier this month, President Trump signed into law FOSTA/SESTA, a law that targets online platforms that people in the sex trade use to connect with their potential clients. Even before the law went into effect, many such online platforms have either shut down or changed rules to push out people who have previously depended on them for their livelihood.

Almost immediately, we began hearing from members of our community who are facing extremely difficult choices as a major portion of their livelihood vanished overnight. Some are fearing that they might become homeless soon because they cannot pay next month’s rent, while others are thinking about going back to working the street. Others, especially those who have experienced horrible abuses while living or working on the street in the past are contemplating suicide out of pure desperation. An influx of individuals who have previously worked online onto the street will undoubtedly also impact those who have been on the street already with additional competition and increased police attention.
(continue reading…)