Colorado sex workers gain new protections under law signed by Gov. Jared Polis

Colorado law now requires sex workers be able to report any of a slew of serious crimes without facing criminal charges related to their work.

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed HB22-1288 into law, following unanimous approval in both chambers of the Colorado legislature. It went into effect with his signature.

The policy grants sex workers immunity from prostitution charges when reporting any of about two-dozen crimes, including human trafficking, murder, manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment and stalking.

Sex workers routinely report that they feel uncomfortable interacting with law enforcement. This is true for a variety of reasons, including the fear that they won’t be believed and the fear that they themselves could face criminal penalties for reporting crimes perpetrated against them, or crimes they’ve witnessed.

Lawmakers and the governor hope that the new law makes sex workers feel safer speaking up as victims or witnesses.

One former street-based sex worker, Tiara Kelley, told lawmakers recently why sex workers are so often scared to report crimes.

“I can recall a time that I was beat up in a parking lot by a client. It was very brutal. I was all bloody, really beaten badly, and I called the police looking for help,” she said. “The police arrived and they never asked me one single question about the gentleman that beat me up. … They asked me what I did, why I was in the person’s car.”

State Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat, said at the House committee hearing on HB22-1288: “Put yourself in their situation: after being raped or assaulted and under extreme duress, the power of going to jail is a strong motivator. … People who engage in sex work are being brutalized with little recourse.”

Titone had bipartisan cosponsors on the bill: Republicans Rep. Matt Soper of Delta and Sen. Jim Smallwood of Douglas County, plus Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora.

The new law represents a rare acknowledgment by the legislature of the myriad dangers sex workers face. The law is limited in scope, but Titone and others have said they hope it kickstarts a broader conversation at the Capitol about sex worker rights and protections.

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