Senate Bill 5277 (SB 5277) was introduced with the purpose of “making the crime of patronizing a prostitute a gross misdemeanor.” The bill was passed in the Senate and made progress in the House, being approved by the Public Safety committee and referred to the Rules Review committee. During this time, I reached out to State Representative Noel Frame to discuss the bill and the sentiment surrounding it.
The bill proposes increasing the penalty of patronizing a prostitute from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor. Currently, offenders can receive up to $1,000 fine and 90 days in confinement. This bill would move the maximum sentencing up to $5,000 and 364 days in jail or prison. I am in favor of the changes for a few reasons. First, increasing the sentencing provides more options for a judge to hold sex buyers accountable for their actions. Secondly, an increased penalty moves in the direction of dissuading people from purchasing sex and helps move accountability to the buyers rather than the people selling sex. A majority of women and men in the sex trade are not voluntarily choosing to stay in the life and yet receive a majority of the negative attention and criminalization from law enforcement. In reality, people would not be selling sex if there wasn’t demand and this bill moves in the right direction to reduce demand.
I am personally invested in this bill because of my volunteer work with women in the sex trade. I facilitate street outreach and serve on the leadership team for a local nonprofit working to provide support and pathways for people in the sex trade. My experience includes seeing woman after woman explain her abuse in the life, the repercussions from law enforcement which leave her in a cycle of offense and shame that society has placed for the work that she felt was her only option. My objective in meeting with Rep. Frame was to understand her position and see if I could transfer some of my experience to give more perspective to the issue. My goal is to see restorative justice implemented at a policy level. So while this is a step in the right direction of holding sex buyers accountable, I don’t necessarily think that it is a fix-all for ending exploitation.
When I met with Rep. Frame, I expressed my sentiment and explained that I didn’t necessarily want to see buyers shamed and pushed past a point of restoration, but I did want to see increased accountability. She stated that it seemed that the bill would most likely pass in the House and we had a conversation about what the best approach is to decrease activity in the sex industry. There was mention of the role policy plays along with enforcement and community activism. We both agreed that it would be interesting to see what effect the Bill has if passed and how it is implemented and discussed other methods of providing support to people buying sex.
Unfortunately, the House session ended before being voted on, but I felt that my conversation with Rep. Frame was a beneficial one that looked for mutual understanding between the two of our perspectives.