Florida Politics

Consensual sex workers in Florida object to human trafficking legislation

The difference between prostitution and sex trafficking

According to experts, it's important to understand the differences between prostitution, which is voluntary, and sex trafficking, which can trap victims with involuntary sex work.
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According to experts, it's important to understand the differences between prostitution, which is voluntary, and sex trafficking, which can trap victims with involuntary sex work.

During the 2018 session of the Florida Legislature, Sen. Lauren Book’s effort to combat human trafficking was thwarted by Disney and other hotel groups.

This session, the Plantation Democrat has their support. But she now has an unexpected opponent: sex workers.

On Tuesday, two women who said they were consensual sex workers said the bill unfairly targets them, rather than people who are being trafficked for sex.

“Sex work does not equate to human trafficking,” said Kristen Cain, who works with the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Tampa Bay, a nonprofit aimed at eliminating stigmas in the sex industry. “The methods implemented by these laws target my friends and my clients. They target me.”

Grace Taylor, who lives in Clearwater, told lawmakers that they need to listen to sex workers, even though it’s illegal in Florida.

“I am your neighbor. I am your coworker. I am the person in the grocery store,” Taylor, 56, said. “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.”

Their unusual testimony in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee prompted the House bill sponsor, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, to accuse them of trying to “malign this good bill,” and she said she would no longer be working with them.

“In case it was lost on you, a consensual sex worker, A.K.A. a prostitute, is committing a crime,” the Fort Myers Republican told her fellow representatives. “It is not my intent to work with them going forward.”

The two bills by Fitzenhagen (House Bill 851) and Book (Senate Bill 540) would require police, hotel workers and massage parlor employees to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking.

Originally, the bills would also create a database of people accused of soliciting prostitution, but it was taken out of the House bill on Tuesday.

The database would shame consensual sex workers, and the training would likely result in recognizing all sex workers rather than trafficking victims, according to Christine Hanavan, a social worker and community organizer for Sex Workers Outreach Project in Orlando.

“Sex workers should be your best resource for fighting violence and exploitation in the sex industry,” Hanavan said. “We need to stop going after men who pay for sex and go after the men who think they can just take it.”

Book, who was watching, met with them afterward. They told her that they wanted the bill to include immunity from reporting men and women who they believe are being trafficked. They also wanted sex workers to be involved in crafting training.

Traffickers use coercion and fraud to lure their victims into forced labor and sexual exploitation in illicit massage businesses. Here’s a look into how that human trafficking system works.

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