California Senate Bill 1204 is a bill so regressive and misguided that it could only have been written over the objections of sex workers themselves. SB 1204 would expand California’s prosecution of ‘pandering’ to include any person who “arranges, causes, encourages, induces, persuades, or procures another person to be a prostitute.” This change would make sex work more dangerous, exposing sex workers and sex worker advocates to near limitless legal harassment and prosecution.
The new law is written so broadly and poorly that it would criminalize conversations about sex work, sex worker political advocacy, harm reduction efforts, health care interventions, and self-protection by sex workers within the industry — each punishable by a mandatory three-to-six years in prison.
- Providing condoms to sex workers? Three years in prison
- Making sure a worker gets home safe? Three years in prison
- Passing out pamphlets about sex worker resources? Three years in prison
We’re not being hyperbolic. Even a cursory review of recent sex worker prosecutions shows that any possible legal angle to harass, prosecute, or intimidate sex workers will be used to its fullest extent by prosecutors, with disproportionate effect on trans sex workers and sex workers of color. Sex workers, particularly those who work in public, can be prosecuted on the mildest pretext, such as possession of a condom. This not only forces them into the shadows, where greater abuse can occur, it forces the abandonment of health and safety precautions.
Nationally, sex workers face the most hostile legal environment decades. Last month, new federal legislation (SESTA/FOSTA) resulted in the widespread closure of online spaces for sex workers, from advertising sites where violent clients could be screened in relative safety, to discussion forums used by sex workers to share resources and communicate about potential danger.
We have seen a rise recently in legislation which professes to protect sex workers, while actually making it many times more dangerous. SB 1204 is no different. It would remove important protections for sex workers, and force consensual sex workers into increasingly more exploitative situations. For those who work in the industry, SB 1204 is a dangerous and deadly bill.
Free Speech Coalition supports the full decriminalization of sex work, but you need not agree with us to find this bill reprehensible. We urge all our members, as well as anyone with a phone line, to call their State Senator immediately to register their opposition to the bill.
Not sure of your Senator? Use this tool to locate your representatives. Please call now — the lives and safety of those in our community depend on it.