Bill that would create safe reporting for sex workers clears first committee test

'It's not a matter of if you'll be raped, it's a matter of when'
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Posted at 5:17 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 20:47:19-04

DENVER — Pasha Ripley thought she was going to die. She was almost sure of it.

It was 2018. Ripley had been in and out of the sex work world for about a decade. She decided to start moonlighting again when her husband faced a disability and her family was on the brink of losing their home.

It was her first time inside the home of a repeat client of hers. As soon as he opened the door and she stepped inside, the attack began.

“I walked in and he grabbed me by my hair. He immediately hit me upside the head with I don't know what it was, and kind of dragged me down the stairs,” Ripley recalled.

From there, things got worse. The perpetrator beat her repeatedly, first with his hands and then with a leather belt.

“I was raped, I was sodomized and it just turned into a situation where I honestly thought he was going to kill me. I really did,” she said.

The beating was so severe that Ripley has no idea how many times she was beaten or how long she was in the home. She does remember screaming though, but those screams went unheard by neighbors.

“The last thing this guy said to me when I walked out of the door was, ‘Who are you going to tell? What are you going to do? Because they'll arrest you too.’ And he's not wrong,” she said.

Ripley went to the hospital for treatment where she received numerous stitches. She begged the hospital staff not to call the police because she was afraid she would be arrested for prostitution.

That terrifying memory was unfortunately just one of the many bad encounters Ripley experienced while making money as a sex worker.

“It's not a matter of if you'll be raped, it's a matter of when you'll be raped and how many times you will be raped before you are able to get out,” Ripley said.

In another instance, Ripley showed up at a man’s house only to find out it was a party. Once again, she was brutalized. Once again, she felt there was no one she could turn to for help.

“He threw money on the ground and said, 'I'm a lawyer. Who are they going to believe? What are you going to do? Who are you going to say? What are you going to tell?' And my biggest shame was I bent over and I picked up that money before I walked away,” she said.

Many of her friends have been through similar experiences. Violence is an unfortunate reality with that line of work. So for years, Ripley has been pushing for Colorado lawmakers to help. This year, a bipartisan bill could bring the change she has been advocating for.

House Bill 22-1288 would grant immunity to someone who engages in prostitution, soliciting or making a display of prostitution when they are reporting a crime of violence, including murder, manslaughter, homicide, assault, menacing, extortion, reckless endangerment, kidnapping, false imprisonment, enticement of a child, human trafficking, stalking and more.

“We're still letting these other people that are doing these serious crimes get away with it because there's no one to report it,” said Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Jefferson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

The bill went through its first committee test Wednesday, where several former sex workers, including Ripley, shared their stories with lawmakers.

Ripley brought pictures of the bruises and cuts the man left on her body to show lawmakers.

Tiarra Kelly, meanwhile, told a story of being assaulted by a client in a parking lot. When she tried to report it to police, she said officers didn’t ask her any questions about the man and convinced her to not press charges, telling her nothing would come of it.

Titone considers the bill’s language to be narrow but effective in giving these workers the right to speak up when they experience or witness a serious crime.

“This bill is a way for us to tell those folks that, hey, you don't need to be a target of attack anymore. You don't need to be worried that someone's going to brutalize you and there's nothing you could do about it,” Titone said.

She considers the bill to be a crime reduction bill since it would allow sex workers to speak up and give police information about some of the state’s most serious crimes.

“What this does is it really helps to get that criminal element off the streets,” Titone said.

The bill has the support of the Boulder District Attorney’s Office and Denver Health, among others. It’s also being cosponsored by two Republicans — Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Douglas.

It received unanimous support in its first committee test and is now moving on through the legislative process.

For Ripley, this is a common sense piece of legislation that has the potential to save lives.

If it’s passed and ultimately goes into effect, Ripley says the challenge will be to get sex workers to step up and speak out.

“It's an act of bravery, and I think it will take a few brave workers to come forward and utilize this,” she said.