Sex workers come out against human trafficking bill

By Lawrence Mower

Last session, 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 that they believe are being trafficked. They also wanted sex workers to be involved in crafting training.

Dominatrix tells Florida lawmakers: Don’t hurt consensual sex work

A professional dominatrix urged Florida lawmakers Tuesday not to hurt consensual sex workers as the Legislature considers bills addressing human trafficking.

“I am your neighbor, I am your co-worker, I am the person in the grocery store. I am also a consensual sex worker,” said Grace Taylor of Pinellas County, who said she began work as a dominatrix about 20 years ago so she could afford to send her sons to Philmont Boy Scout Ranch. “And as such, I am your first line of defense in helping you find those who have been trafficked.”

She and fellow sex-worker Kristen Cain told the House Criminal Justice Committee there’s a difference between people who choose to work in the sex industry and those forced into the trade.

They testified before the committee approved two bills aimed at addressing the problem of human trafficking — an issue that’s gained more attention after New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with paying for sex as part of a Florida investigation into massage parlor prostitution.

“Sex work does not equate to human trafficking. Conflating the two is dangerous for both victims of human trafficking and sex workers,” Cain said. “Listen to sex workers. We are here to help you.”

A bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen would create a statewide council to focus on human trafficking and require massage parlor employees and hotel front desk and housekeeping staff be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking.

A second bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf would create a mandatory 10-day jail sentence for anyone convicted of soliciting a prostitute and an additional 30-day sentence if the person solicited is a human trafficking victim.

Both bills were approved. Overdorf mentioned the investigation that snared Kraft and about 300 other men in arguing for his bill. He said he hopes his bill will reduce demand for paid sex.

“Mr. Kraft’s unfortunate choices certainly have raised the awareness of what human trafficking is in the state of Florida and how prevalent it is throughout our entire society,” Overdorf said after the meeting. “It’s a scourge that’s really affecting the state of Florida.”

But Christine Hanavan of the Sex Worker Outreach Project told the committee that laws aimed at punishing men who seek out prostitutes don’t work.

“Criminalization is the root cause of trafficking. Prohibition did not end drinking and it can’t end sex work. What it can do is make it more dangerous,” said Hanavan, who isn’t a sex worker but advocates for them.

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

But despite the offers to help, Fitzenhagen said she wasn’t interested.

“In case it was lost on you, a consensual sex worker, a.k.a. a prostitute, is committing a crime,” Fitzenhagen told the committee. “It is not my intent to work with them moving forward.”

After the meeting, Taylor said she isn’t a prostitute, but rather dresses up to create a fantasy for her clients.

“Professional dominatrix is not illegal,” Taylor said.

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