By Natalie Seils, policy and communications intern
This week, the Colorado House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that could go far in protecting sex workers from violence. House Bill 1288, Safe Reporting Assaults Suffered by Sex Workers, is sponsored by Representatives Brianna Titone and Matt Soper. The bill would protect Colorado sex workers from facing charges related to prostitution when reporting crime.
In the state of Colorado, prostitution and its related activities are considered petty offenses. Yet, sex workers continue to face high rates of violence without equal protection under the law. Bill witness and former sex worker TR Kelly said, “I called the police because I was taught the police were there to protect and serve. The police never asked me a single question about the gentleman who beat me up. They asked me what I was doing in his car and asking what I did to deserve it and convincing me not to press charges because nothing would be done anyway.”
Stories like Kelly’s are not unusual within the sex work community. As Rep. Titone noted, sex workers are often seen as easy targets for violent offenders because of the nature of their work and their fear of interactions with law enforcement. “People who engage in sex work are being brutalized with little recourse.” While HB22-1288 will not legalize prostitution in Colorado, it does create opportunities for equal protection against violence and abuse.
Proponents of HB22-1288 also testified that sex workers may also be victims of human trafficking, and the fear of arrest is commonly used by traffickers to keep victims from seeking help. “They use our justice system to keep people trapped in the human trafficking cycle,” said Pascha Ripley, former sex worker and executive director of RedLight Resources International.
CCASA’s Public Policy Director, Elizabeth Newman, also testified in support of HB22-1288, emphasizing sex workers experience high rates of violence while being unlikely to report victimizations, making this bill about the broader issue of public safety.
House Judiciary Committee members made clear that creating opportunities for victims of crime to come forward, no matter the nature of their work, is a matter of common sense that will save lives.