When California passed the anti-sex trafficking measure Proposition 35 in 2012, an overwhelming 81 percent of voters chose “yes on 35.”
After all, who could be against a law that sought to crack down on traffickers of juvenile sex slaves?
As it turns out, some of the most outspoken opponents of the law were sex workers themselves. They balked at the provision requiring sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, fearing that the overly broad definition of trafficker could ensnare them, their customers, and their family members. The anti-pimping provisions, they argued, blurred the legal lines between coercive underage trafficking and consensual, adult prostitution.
“They’re calling themselves the anti-trafficking lobby, but they’re really a group of people primarily against commercial sex work,” says Mariko Passion, a San Francisco-based sex worker, artist, and self-described “whore revolutionary.”
Other sex workers echo Passion’s anti-Prop. 35 sentiments. One Los Angeles-based prostitute, who asked to be known only as “Holly” for fear of legal reprisal, says that she freely chose her line of work following the 2008 housing crash. She had grown tired of the corporate rat race and wanted to go “off the grid.” Holly, who runs her own online escort service, says the draconian provisions of Prop. 35 have made her less likely to report an assault and that she resents those who think of her as a victim in need of salvation.
“The difference between human trafficking and prostitution is coercion,” says Holly. “I’m not a victim. I’m not being coerced. But the law doesn’t see me that way.”