There are many obstacles that face people who are engaged in Sex Work, but one of the biggest and most frightening is being arrested. It is an unfortunate reality that here in the United States, Consensual Transactional Sex remains almost universally illegal. This means that people who are just trying to live their lives and pay their bills by engaging in consensual activities can be arrested, fined, imprisoned, and subjugated by the government that should be protecting them.
Much of the more modern law enforcement actions against Sex Workers are aimed at stopping “Sex Trafficking” ( a large subset of the overall issue of Human Trafficking). And Sex Trafficking is a real issue that needs addressing. The problem is, that law enforcement doesn’t actually put their primary efforts into putting an end to actually Sex Trafficking, instead they focus their time & resources on cracking down of Sex Workers who are not victims of trafficking.
Recently there were large-scale anti-prostitution operations all over the country. Many happened right here in California where I live. During these operations, hundreds of Sex Workers and their clients were detained, cited, or arrested by law enforcement agents, almost all claiming to be targeting Sex Trafficking. I personally know six Sex Workers in California who were caught in these stings. None of these ladies are victims of Sex Trafficking. All of them are facing potentially serious legal situations. This isn’t justice for victims of Sex Trafficking, it is injustice.
I asked each of these ladies if they would share their stories. For many reasons, most declined. But two ladies have decided to share their experiences with my readers. To protect their identities they will only be referred to as “Miss S” and “Miss K”.
Miss S & Miss K were both caught up in law enforcement stings at the end of January 2020, though in different cities in California. Their situations were very similar in many regards.
Miss S was contacted by a prospective client about doing an outcall appointment at the hotel he was staying. She requested specific screening information, including his driver’s license, work information, and other information. The screening process she followed was the same as she has successfully used—without incident—over the three years she has been working. When she accepted the appointment she had no indication of a problem. No “red flags”.
Miss K’s experience is essentially the same. Over the past six years she has never been arrested or detained by law enforcement. The man who contacted her provided all the screening information she requested. In this case it included two references from other sex workers. Only one of those references replied to her, but it was a positive reply stating that the man was a safe client.
When Miss K arrived at the hotel she didn’t feel anything was off. It was a hotel she had visited before, and even stayed at, without ever having an incident. She texted that she had arrived and was given the room number. She went to the room, knocked on the door and was let in. The man in the room was the same as on the ID photo she had received. He introduced himself and shook her hand. As she walked in she didn’t see anything suspicious. The man placed some money on the desk in the room and she placed her purse down next to it. He then told her that he needed to use the bathroom.
This must have been the code for the police to enter the room, because as soon as he went in the bathroom the door to the room opened and four police officers (none in uniform) entered the room.
“They told me to turn around and place my hands on my head. Then they put me in handcuffs and grabbed my purse. A bunch of shit fell out of it on the floor, which they just picked up and shoved back in it. Then they pulled me out of the room outside and to the next room. They pretty much tossed my ass onto the bed.”
At this point they read Miss K her rights and started asking her a lot of questions. There were six police officers in the room, with several of the talking at once. She couldn’t keep track of who was asking what question. They emptied out her purse on the bed.
Miss K did not answer most of their questions, only acknowledging her name and address (which they read off of her driver’s license which they took from her purse. The police attempted to open her phone, but she keeps it locked with a passcode at all times. When they asked her to unlock it she told them that she would not do so without a warrant.
“They got upset with me when I said I wanted to see a warrant to look in my phone. Really pissed. They started saying how they were going to lock me up and if I had kids they would make sure CPS took them away. They kept saying it would be easier for me if I gave them the code. I know that was bullshit. I didn’t say anything.”
After about 45 minutes of questions, most of which she refused to answer, they wrote out a citation with a court date in May. The charge listed on the citation was “PC 647 (b)(1) Prostitution”. She was told she must appear in court on the date listed. She was then uncuffed, signed the ticket, and was given back her possessions. She left the hotel and went home.
Miss S went through a very similar experience. She was contacted via text. The man asked for “an hour”, but did not ask about any type of services. She requested screening information, which was provided & verified.
“When I got there, he opened the door and I used the bathroom. There was alcohol everywhere like he’d been drinking. He sat on one of the beds and was kinda weird. Was trying to make small talk and he was just talking about his job. So then he tried to hand me money and I told him he could set it down as I was going to change. And he said he’s going to use the bathroom. . . then he went into the bathroom and like 6-7 cops came through the room attached.”
Miss S was handcuffed immediately and searched. Her bags were also searched. Then she was taken to another room where multiple cops were asking questions while her bags were once again searched. After writing her a ticket she was taken to another room where “social workers” questioned her and talked to her. Her car was also searched, without her permission.
During the questioning she was told by the cops that her possessing condoms was “proof she was a prostitute”. They also told her that the money she already had with her was evidence of prostitution. Law enforcement kept the money they took from her purse. She was questioned as to whether she was in danger or being forced to work.
Miss S was not read her Miranda rights until after she had been questioned by law enforcement. It was not until they were removing the handcuffs that she was told to listen to her rights.
The entire experience was very jarring for Miss S, who has never been through this before.
“When they handcuffed me it hurt because it was very tight. Left indents and red in my wrists. Everything felt like it was just happening so fast and I didn’t know what to do. . . During the search I was just confused because there was many people asking questions, then asking my info, and searching things and talking. It was a lot at once.”
Both of the stories told by these ladies illustrate the injustice of the continuing situation surrounding Sex Work. Neither of these ladies is being compelled to work against their will. They are not hurting anyone. They are not engaging in any form of nonconsensual activity. They are simply trying to make a living.
Both of them were charged with the same offense:
“647 (b) (1) An individual who solicits, or who agrees to engage in, or who engages in, any act of prostitution with the intent to receive compensation, money, or anything of value from another person. An individual agrees to engage in an act of prostitution when, with specific intent to so engage, the individual manifests an acceptance of an offer or solicitation by another person to so engage, regardless of whether the offer or solicitation was made by a person who also possessed the specific intent to engage in an act of prostitution.” (California Penal Code)
It is clear to anyone who has any empathy or sympathy for those who are Sex Workers that these two cases both represent a serious injustice. I’m not a lawyer, but I find any case that law enforcement has against them to be legally weak. And it is certainly not of any value to society to punish these women.
In the case of Miss S there were a number of things that strike me as being truly improper. California Law no longer allows law enforcement to use the possession of condoms as “evidence” of prostitution (California S.B. 233 recently went into effect, providing some protections for Sex Workers), so it was wrong for the cops to tell her otherwise. It was also wrong to question her without formally informing her of her legal rights.
Meanwhile, during the time that these arrests (and many others like them) were made, law enforcement organizations were publicly touting their “successes” in fighting against sex trafficking through various operations all over the state. Yet there is little evidence that those arrested in any of these stings were actual victims or perpetrators of sex trafficking. The women that I know who were arrested are all independent of any pimps. They were not forced or coerced into sex work. They are consenting adults.
We live in a society that claims to value freedom and justice. It is perfectly legal for any adults to engage in sexual activities with whomever they consensually agree to be with. There is not law restricting consensual sex between adults in California. Unless money is involved. This is logically ridiculous.
The arrests of these women represent leftover moralistic controls. They same kind of controls that were used to persecute people are not heterosexual. The same kind of controls that were used to discriminate against people because of the color of their skin. In is neither justice nor freedom. In fact, all it serves is to create fear, oppression, and danger for thousands (perhaps millions) of consenting adults in America.
I wish to close with something that Miss S said. This truly sums up the problem and the reality that so many Sex workers face:
“I’m too scared to work right now and my bills are due and I’m barely able to afford gas right now. It sucks and it’s not fair to be scared to work when I’m a consenting adult. It’s just not right.”
[I wish to thank Miss S & Miss K for their bravery in sharing their stories. I hope this helps to inform people of the injustice of the current situation. Please share the link to this story on your social media so that we can spread the truth of this injustice.]