Florida lawmakers want to do something about sex trafficking in the wake of high-profile raids on massage parlors across south Florida that led to 300 prostitution-related arrests in February. So, last week, a community organizer and two activists working in the sex trade showed up to a criminal justice committee hearing on a controversial anti-sex-trafficking bill and asked lawmakers to make sweeping changes to the legislation, which they say could further the criminalization of sex workers and do little to combat trafficking.
“Sex work does not equate to human trafficking,” said Kristen Cain, a sex worker and one of the activists who spoke during the public comment period of the hearing in the Florida House of Representatives last week. “Conflating the two is dangerous for both victims of human trafficking and sex workers. Listen to sex workers. We are here to help you.”
Sex workers are best positioned to identify victims of trafficking who are coerced into selling sexual services, the three activists told lawmakers, but fear of arrest can prevent them from making reports. They argued that criminalizing sex workers under anti-prostitution laws actually creates more space for trafficking and makes the entire sex trade more dangerous to begin with.
“Decriminalizing sex work does not mean decriminalizing human trafficking, exploitation, or violence,” victims advocate Christine Hanavan, one of the activists who spoke at the hearing, told the lawmakers. Hanavan, who works as a community organizer with the Sex Workers Outreach Project Behind Bars in Orlando, added that decriminalizing sex work “means increased safety, access to social services, and the ability to leave the sex industry if people choose to without a criminal record forever standing in the way.”
Despite emotional testimony from Cain and another activist who consensually sells sex for a…