A large number of the sex workers claiming residence in Seattle have autonomy and do it for money, companionship, and often pleasure. There is nothing inherently wrong with exchanging sex for money, but when an individual is forced into it unwillingly, it changes the way we should be handling legislation.
An estimated 300,000 minors are exploited and sold into sexual slavery in the United States per year, and Seattle is the country’s third most popular metropolitan region for such trade. A recently-passed piece of legislation changes wording from “patronizing a prostitute” to “sexual exploitation” and raises the maximum sentence from 90 days to a full year. Although the language is vague about sex workers who are voluntarily in the field, it fights the sex trafficking problem at the core by discouraging the purchasing of sex. When the patrons stop buying, the business sinks.
People argue that this will also affect the sex workers who choose to be in the business. The threat of more jail time and harsher punishment may discourage clients, but there are points that may distinguish how law enforcement pursues this type of prostitution compared to coerced sex work.
Independent workers have a relatively lower chance of getting prosecuted. Many professionals have rigorous screening processes, and will screen each client on a case-by-case basis. Everything is done discreetly and rarely runs the risk of presenting a problem big enough to warrant an investigation. Alternatively, the larger sexual trade syndicates are often easier to find and make an appointment, which expands the client base greatly. Combined with related drug and illegal goods trading, the value in pursuing and prosecuting such a case is increased.
This forced work is what this law is really trying to stamp out. If Seattle is smart about how they handle such cases, the sex trafficking industry in Seattle could take an effective hit. With the increased punishment for patrons, sex trafficking rings should be focused on more intensely. The fuzzy language in the legislation may prove this difficult to carry out, but here’s to hoping it does more good than harm.