In a move being celebrated by sex workers and their supporters, California’s SB1204 has been temporarily halted and is being called unlikely to pass. While dozens of sex workers stood outside the Capitol with red umbrellas drawn, the CA Senate Committee for Public Safety discussed sex workers’ rights. State Senators Holly Mitchell, Nancy Skinner and Scott Weiner voiced concern that the potential effects of the bill were too broad, and that the bill needed to be reworded for a new vote.
Introduced by Senator Bates and coauthored by Assembly Member Cunningham, the bill would have expanded the definition of pandering (a felony under California law) to include “among other acts, arranging, causing, encouraging, inducing, persuading, or procuring another person to be a prostitute, with the intent that the other person engage in an act of prostitution…” and would have criminalized support programs for sex workers — down to the most basic acts like providing STI screening and free condoms, as these could be seen as “encouraging” prostitution.
The introduction of CA SB1204 came in during the maelstrom of reactions to SESTA-FOSTA (read about that here and here), and the sex work community’s response was swift and vigorous, despite already lukewarm reception to the bill. Unwilling to take any chances, the Free Speech Coalition and sex work advocacy groups launched a massive internet campaign against it, encouraging workers and their clients to reach out to legislators. The vote was delayed by one week on April 17th, as Senator Bates found a marked lack of support.
Plenty of bills die quickly in state legislatures, but SB1204 is notable for being an example of consensual sex workers defending their rights and succeeding. Sex workers winning this fight is a beacon of hope for an under-protected and marginalized class that is often left out of the feminist movement. It falls in the middle of a new puritanical craze, as numerous obscenity laws and further criminalization of prostitution have swept across the UK and US — laws aimed at everything from holding websites responsible for sex traffickers’ actions, to cracking down on BDSM content, to defining pornography as a public health hazard. Hopefully the defeat of SB1204 can serve as an example in further fights against the restrictions of bodily freedom.
“Bill Text — SB-1204 Pandering.” California Legislative Information. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB1204
Cragg, Oliver. “Is Online Porn about to Go Soft? Bill to Ban ‘non-conventional’ Sex Acts Posed by UK Law.” International Business Times UK. November 23, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/online-porn-about-go-soft-bill-ban-non-conventional-sex-acts-posed-by-uk-law-1593004
Cummings, William. “Florida House Declares a Public Health Risk — from Pornography (not Guns).” USA Today. February 21, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/02/21/florida-house-pornography-health-risk/359828002/
Jones, Rhett. “Senate Passes SESTA, Controversial ‘Anti-Sex Trafficking’ Bill That Could Ruin the Internet and Harm Sex Workers.” Gizmodo. March 21, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. https://gizmodo.com/senate-passes-sesta-controversial-anti-sex-trafficking-1823916411
Red Umbrella Fund. “Sex Workers’ Rights.” Accessed April 30, 2018. http://www.redumbrellafund.org/sex-workers-rights/
XBIZ. “Calif. Senate Panel Decides to Delay Vote on Amending ‘Pandering’ Law.” XBIZ. April 17, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2018. http://www.xbiz.com/news/235124/calif-senate-panel-decides-to-delay-vote-on-amending-pandering-law