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Sex workers, advocates oppose bill aimed at sex trafficking

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Measure designed to close a loophole in law criminalizing promotion of prostitution


PARIS ACHEN - Advocates Michelle Schilz and Katlyn Tracy of the Sex Workers Outreach Coalition and Matilda Bickers of the Portland chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 15, 2016, concerning a bill to expand the definition of promoting prostitution to include accepting goods and services for facilitating sexual services.SALEM — Sex workers and their advocates are speaking out against a bill on the fast track for passage in the Oregon Legislature that would criminalize receiving goods or services for promoting prostitution.

The bill is designed to allow district attorneys to prosecute human trafficking cases when traffickers receive goods, services or something else of value in exchange for the sexual contact with victims. Under existing law, traffickers commit a crime of promoting prostitution only when they accept monetary compensation for facilitating sexual contact with a victim.

“Many traffickers and exploiters understand the law and have changed their tactics to take advantage of this oversight,” said J.R. Ujifusa, a Multnomah County deputy district attorney.

The bill would close that loophole, Ujifusa said.

Matilda Bickers, a strip club dancer and founder of the Portland chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project, said the proposed provision makes no distinction between sex traffickers and pimps or client screening services that receive compensation in a consensual business relationships with sex workers.

PARIS ACHEN - Matilda Bickers of the Portland chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project and Michelle Schilz of the Sex Workers Outreach Coalition discuss their testimony during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider a bill that would expand the definition of promoting prostitution to include accepting goods and services.“Unfortunately, there are actually systems in place which would be defined as pimping in this bill, which are actually ways that sex workers use to stay safe,” Bickers said.

Bickers gained publicity last year for suing Casa Diablo Vegan Strip Club in Northwest Portland for wage theft and harassment.

The bill passed the House unanimously Feb. 4. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Monday to recommend the bill for consideration by the Senate.

Advocates with the Sex Workers Outreach Coalition said the bill could hurt sex workers who exchange sexual favors for food, shelter and other things they need to survive.

“My other concern, as someone who is providing social services, is I do know a lot of folks who are using survival sex work to get goods and services that they need,” said Katlyn Tracy of the Sex Workers Outreach Coalition, a coalition of social service providers who advocate for sex workers. “This bill would basically criminalize folks who might provide that for them, but it doesn’t do anything to provide services.”

Joel Shapiro, an attorney and lobbyist involved in a legislative work group on child sex trafficking, said the proposed change affects only sex traffickers because it requires involvement by a third party involved in the transaction.

“If you exchange something like a place to sleep, that is prostitution, “ Shapiro said. “There is no third party involved.”

About 16 percent of prostitution transactions involve an exchange of goods or services, according to the Demanding Justice Report in 2014 by Shared Hope International.

About 2 percent of those are drug transactions; the other 14 percent involved other goods or services.


By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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