My name is Jocelyn Foye and I am submitting testimony on behalf of The Womxn Project as their executive director. We are a statewide 501(c)4 advocacy and arts organization focused on leveraging the power of art, advocacy, and education to advance the principles of reproductive justice, which demands that we all have the right to determine when and how we build our relationships, families, and futures and that we have the ability to live and raise our children with dignity. We are proud to speak out for the health, rights and dignity of sex workers who too often are ignored, stigmatized or harmed by our systems.
The Womxn Project is in strong support of H6064, which would provide immunity for sex workers and sex trafficking survivors reporting crimes to help make everyone safer. When sex workers and survivors of trafficking experience or witness violence, the threat of arrest and prosecution can make people fearful of reporting to police. It can also be a deterrent to seeking medical treatment, due to fear of healthcare providers reporting to law enforcement. This not only perpetuates disparate treatment and access within the criminal legal system, it is also poor public health policy. Further, when the people who cause harm to people doing sex work are not held accountable, they are able to continue their acts of violence and exploitation without consequence.
Violence is a reality and threat for sex workers. The fact that even consensual sex work operates in the shadows due to criminalization and stigmatization only perpetuates this violence. This is made worse by federal legislation known as SESTA/FOSTA, which was signed into law in 2018. These laws deprived sex workers of tools they have relied upon to screen clients and reduce harm. This exacerbates violence, as many sex workers said that it would and even the Department of Justice indicated could happen as a result. That makes bills like this one even more important.
We have problems with many of the laws and approaches in a carceral approach to policing rather than restorative and community based alternatives. We know that criminalizing sex work does nothing to prevent trafficking and discourages trafficking victims from seeking support from authorities. It does little more than harm survivors of trafficking and those doing consensual sex work as criminal laws are disproportionately used against cis and trans women of color.
We need to reform the system as a whole, but we can start here. If a person is able to help law enforcement and is willing to answer questions to support creating accountability or helping someone else in their community who may be trying to seek a form of justice then they should be able to do so.
A person who does sex work should not have to fear that if they talk with a police officer to try to assist them in addressing an issue or solving a crime that they will face arrest, interrogation or harm. We urge the General Assembly to reconsider the criminalization of sex work and harmful impacts of this approach overall, but in the meantime we urge you to vote yes on this legislation. It is an important first step.
We should do more to ensure that trafficking survivors and sex workers involved in a dangerous situation do not have to assess the risk between reporting a crime and being able to go home to their families and maintain their options for the future. Avoiding a criminal record is important if folks want to be able to find a job in another industry in the future. It also ensures people will not avoid seeking care or support due to fear of arrest.
Ensuring that people are able to pursue justice without fear of arrest is simply the right thing to do. In fact, we are all safer when survivors and witnesses feel comfortable reporting crimes. Silencing sex workers only protects the perpetrators of the crimes these survivors and witnesses are too afraid to report. H6064 will give real relief to survivors of violence and provide a safe path for reporting offenses and abuses. The Womxn Project urges you to vote YES on H6064 when it comes before you.