Seattle PD clarifies comment that sex workers ‘enjoy’ prostitution

SEATTLE – A Seattle police captain in charge of the agency’s High Risk Victims Unit said Thursday that he does not believe sex workers “enjoy” such work, despite a controversial comment made by one of his superiors during a city council meeting earlier in the week.

Following a report in Crosscut that the Seattle Police Department has begun routinely arresting sex workers, Deputy Seattle Police Chief Marc Garth Green was asked about the issue at a Seattle City Council meeting Wednesday.

During his remarks, Garth Green suggested some sex workers “choose to do what they’re doing” and said some even “enjoy” it.

“And that comes from my experience of actually working the street up there and talking to the young lady who specifically told me that she was there to make money and enjoyed it,” Garth Green said.

“The idea that we can conclude that women are pro themselves as a choice, is something that is almost shocking to even say,” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw responded.

Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Kshama Sawant were equally upset with the assertion, Sawant calling it “just not acceptable.”

In a series of tweets Thursday from the department’s official account, Garth Green walked back the comments, writing:

“I’d like to clarify my earlier remarks that I was unable to finish at City Council today. There is a reason we refer to those engaged in prostitution as High Risk Victims. In our experience, victims are forced into prostitution through violence, deception, and other factors not of their choosing. Diversion options can be limited, and we may need to arrest them to disrupt the cycle of violence and abuse. For people trafficked in prostitution, jail can be a safer place than out on the street. That said, our primary enforcement focus will ALWAYS be those who profit from and support this form of human trafficking.”

On Thursday, Seattle Police Captain Mike Edwards, who commands the High Risk Victims Unit, was asked about the remarks in an interview with Q13 News.

“Are those comments made to us? Absolutely. Those are made to us. Do we believe them based on the experience, knowledge of what’s going on, especially with pimps being involved? No,” Capt. Edwards said, going on to suggest that Garth Green wasn’t given enough time to make the same point. “Unfortunately, you need a lot of time to really explain this to folks to really understand what goes on out on the street in particular.”

Captain Edwards said while the agency has increased arrests of sex workers, few result in prosecution and many arrests are carried out in a “care-taking” capacity – the idea being that removing sex workers from a situation they may be forced into can help them break free of pimps.

“We are still victim-centered, trauma informed. That’s our approach,” he said.

“We know what that environment is like. That environment is not healthy. It’s dangerous. We can’t ignore it. It would be inappropriate for us to do so, even for the women in particular.

Edwards said he hopes the Crosscut article, and the resulting attention at City Hall, will spark a dialogue that can ultimately help ensure sex workers have better access to services.