On Tuesday, two sex workers spoke before a Florida subcommittee considering a pair of bills that would ostensibly target sex trafficking. They spoke out about how the bills could harm them and urged lawmakers to listen to sex workers, only to then be promptly dismissed as criminals by one of the bill’s sponsors.
The bills would require hotel staff to be trained in identifying signs of trafficking and “create a mandatory 10-day jail sentence for anyone convicted of soliciting a prostitute and an additional 30-day sentence if the person solicited is a human trafficking victim,” according to the Associated Press. The bills follow New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s charges for soliciting prostitution following a massage parlor bust.
It’s so often the case that legislation targeting sex trafficking (see: FOSTA-SESTA), can have a devastating impact on consensual sex workers. Christine Hanavan of the Sex Workers Outreach Project told the committee, “Criminalization is the root cause of trafficking. Prohibition did not end drinking and it can’t end sex work. What it can do is make it more dangerous.” Research has borne this out, finding that criminalization is linked with greater violence, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health issues among sex workers.
“I am your neighbor. I am your coworker. I am the person in the grocery store,” said 56-year-old Grace Taylor during her committee testimony. “I am also a consensual sex worker, and as such, I am the first line of defense in helping you find those who have been trafficked.” Kristen Cain, a fellow sex worker, told the committee, “Sex work does not equate to human trafficking. Conflating the two is dangerous for both victims of human trafficking and sex workers,” she said. “Listen to sex workers. We are here to help you.”
But then lawmakers did the opposite.
Not only were the bills approved, but Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, one of the bills’ sponsors, told the committee, “In case it was lost on you, a consensual sex worker, a.k.a. a prostitute, is committing a crime,” she said. “It is not my intent to work with them moving forward.”
After the meeting, Taylor pointed out that she is a dominatrix, which is not illegal. Not that it should matter, but it shows how well Fitzenhagen is listening.