City Councilmember John Duran got pushback from his fellow Council members last night over his proposal that the city sponsor a sex worker task force.
Duran’s proposal would have had the City Manager appoint members of the task force, including experts in the field of sex work, people with experience as sex workers and representatives from the city’s Transgender Advisory Board, Public Safety Commission, and Human Services Commission. The task force would be asked to develop a report on abuse and exploitation of sex workers and what can be done to prevent that.
A number of people who identified themselves as sex workers or who were active with organizations representing sex workers turned out to support the project. One was West Seegmiller, a sex worker who has migrated from that work to become an active member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project. Seegmiller also has been a romantic partner of Duran.
Duran’s proposal provided a wide definition of sex workers. “Sex workers are female, male and transgender adults who have consensual sex in exchange for money or goods, either regularly or occasionally,” said the proposal. “Sex work may or may not involve physical contact. Under this definition, sex workers include (but are not limited to): escorts, strippers, professional dominants and submissives, fetish and fantasy performers, erotic massage providers, sex surrogates, phone sex operators, porn performers, and more.”
None of the City Council members opposed the idea of exploring ways to stop the abuse and exploitation of sex workers. However, they questioned what role the city should play.
Councilmember Lindsey Horvath noted that the city already has several commissions or boards that can address the issues the task force would focus on. Those include the Transgender Advisory Board, the Human Services Commission, the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and the Public Safety Commission.
Horvath said she did support the idea of the city creating a regular meeting place for SWOP. And she noted that the city didn’t have the power to change laws the criminalized sex work.
Councilmember Lauren Meister suggested the task force have multiple co-sponsors such as SWOP, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bet Tzedek, and the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. She said she didn’t think City Hall staff had the qualifications necessary to produce a report on the issue.
Councilmember John Heilman said that if the task force was a city project, its meetings would have to be open to anyone. Because of that, he said, some sex workers might be reluctant to publicly participate in the task force. He recommended that the Council ask City Hall staffers to work with SWOP to find people who might want to be on the task force advisory board rather than require the City Manager to appoint its members.
Duran, who was clearly upset about the opposition, withdrew his proposal. However, the City Council decided to ask the City Manager to work with other organizations to create a task force independent of the city, which would provide resources to support it. During the vote, Duran abstained.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erred in saying that John Duran voted against the measure passed by his fellow City Council members. In fact, he abstained from voting. The story has been corrected.