Sex workers defend industry

Sex workers defend industry

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A local group is fighting for the right of sex workers to conduct business.

The sex industry has changed. No long are sex workers walking the streets, but they're online, screening their clients and in many cases, asking for big money.

Despite the lifestyle being illegal, for some, like Liz Coplen, it's a choice.

"I'm a sex worker. I'm not coerced. I'm not trafficked. I've been a sex worker my entire life," Coplen said.

Coplen is also board chair of the Sex Workers Outreach Project in Tucson.

Coplen said many women enter the world of online sex work to make money.

The women on these sites range from college students, to single moms, to professionals with a side job.

Their clients also run the gamut, from police officers as seen earlier this week, to doctors, lawyers, soldiers and college professors.

While many admit it's a dangerous profession, as they never know who their client will end up being, the women said they take great measures to protect their safety.

"I have people I use as safe calls. When I go somewhere I call them, [and say] 'this is where I'm going to be, this is how long I'm going to be there.'"

Coplen said she worries about going public with her name, she feels police know who most sex workers are.

"What we're seeing [since] the beginning of time is that no one's been able to stop sex work from happening," said Julianna Piccillo, spokeswoman for the Sex Workers Outreach Project, "Stop people from seeking out sex workers."

The women said while they're making great money, getting out of the industry is tough.

With felony charges racked up, many cannot find jobs that pay well, so they choose to stay in an industry where they know the paychecks are much higher than minimum wage.

A local city councilman has launched a program to help women get out of the sex trade, however.

Project raise is now in it's second year.

Since it began, more than 60 women have signed on to get out of the industry.

Many of them had turned to prostitution to feed a drug habit.

Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik started the program to give women an alternative to jail. The program offers counseling, job skills and shelter.

The program also offers a chance to those who want a shot at getting out.

"I say number one it's a crime," said Ann Charles, coordinator for Project Raise. "It degrades our community and secondly, that's their personal choice, but the women we encounter want to make a choice and want to be active in hopefully recovery."

Staff said nationwide, only 30 percent of the women who enter this program make it through the program.

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