“Sex work is work! Sex work is work!”
A line of those advocating for safe working conditions in the sex industry chanted and filled an area along Lincoln Street in front of the Colorado State Capitol today on March 3, 2016, a day marked internationally each year.
Issues of safety are at the forefront of sex work organizing. Advocates say that the stigmatization of the industry is the driving force behind the violence that sex workers experience in disparate numbers especially by transsexual workers. Globally sex workers report that the violence is difficult to report to officials who don’t value the lives of those working in the industry and difficult to report to those who display indifference to accounts of violence reported by those working in the sex industry. But to Adrian who held a banner in front of the capitol today, the discrimination he experienced didn’t come from the police, “The worse discrimination I’ve experienced has been from friends and family.”
Sex worker advocacy organizations seek to protect those who engage in prostitution but others in the sex industry are also included in groups that may need protections from labor, legal, constitutional or other types of abuses. Those include exotic dancers, phone sex operators, adult video performers and all those who work to protect workers including club bouncers and bodyguards. Last year 149 murders of sex workers had been reported globally to organizations who track the numbers. Of those, a high number suffered gruesome deaths including dismemberment or were burned alive.
Sex Workers Rights Day, first begun in Calcutta, India in 2001, has been marked in Denver for almost as long. That year in Calcutta 25,000 sex workers gathered not only to celebrate their professions but also to call for rights of safety and the freedom to work.
Outside of the Colorado State Capitol on Thursday, about a dozen sex workers and their allies gathered for the same reason. Holding signs that read, “SEX WORKS RIGHTS NOW” and holding the signature red umbrellas first used at that historic 2001 Venice gathering, Denver protesters-some of whom are members of the advocacy group Sex Workers Outreach Project- were also bringing attention to what was happening inside the Capitol.
SB 075 was introduced on January 19, 2016 in the State Senate sponsored by Senator Michael Johnston and Representative Daniel Pabon, both Democrats, and Representative Polly Lawrence and Senator John Cooke, both Republicans. If passed, someone convicted of a misdemeanor involving unlawful sexual contact must provide a DNA sample to be stored in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation database.
But the bill as introduced would include menacing, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, child abuse, violation of a protection order, harassment, solicitation of a prostitute, and even shoplifting.
Kitten who held a megaphone told KGNU that she also wants the criminalization of HIV to stop, “It’s a felony crime to sell sex with HIV in Colorado, even if you don’t know your status, even if you don’t know that you’re HIV positive, it’s still a felony. You can give people a hand job, you can have protected sex, you can do all sorts of safe sex and sell sex safely if you’re HIV positive. Being HIV positive does not make you a vector of disease and it does not make you a danger to society.”
“Really what we’d like to see is no laws keeping people from selling sex. Those laws are used to marginalize people in the community. They’re used to oppress people in our community who aren’t getting rescued, they’re getting incarcerated.”
SB 075 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a split vote on March 2, 2016 and is now scheduled to go to the Finance Committee.