This summary of DSW’s strategic plan is intended to be transparent enough for its allies to see how the organization is focusing its limited resources, while not providing information that prohibitionists could use to thwart DSW’s political agenda.
Understanding that consensual prostitution is a subset of consensual sex work, DSW is focused on changing laws so that consensual, adult prostitution will no longer be a crime or otherwise penalized in the United States.
DSW’s Focus Is on Changing State Laws
State laws are the principal focus of DSW’s political activities, because almost all arrests and other collateral consequences associated with consensual adult prostitution occur under state law. When discussing prostitution laws, DSW is referring to the umbrella of laws that punish consenting adults for:
(1) exchanging money or anything of value for sex or sexual services;
(2) loitering; and
(3) advertising or otherwise engaging in the business of prostitution.
Federal law correctly criminalizes non-consensual human trafficking while remaining silent on consensual adult prostitution; this is why brothels in some parts of Nevada are not raided by the feds. That said, two federal policies are particularly problematic, and DSW intends to lobby Congress on these two issues when sufficient resources become available:
(1) Under the new FOSTA/SESTA amendment to the Communications Decency Act, federal law criminalizes forums (mostly web sites) where adults advertise their services and/or provide information on whether sexual-service providers and their clients present any safety or health risks.
(2) While some non-profit organizations do excellent anti-trafficking work, the federal government’s annual budgetary process also wastes taxpayer money on grants to organizations (especially law enforcement) that purport to address human trafficking but instead target consenting adults, while blocking grants to rights-based organizations that favor harm-reduction approaches.
As for local laws, they’re not permitted to undercut or conflict with state laws; as such, local ordinances usually cannot impose penalties that are more lenient than state-level penalties for the same offenses. While all states rely on city councils and county boards to enact most local policies, some states/cities allow voters to place their own proposed laws on local ballots. In November 2020, DSW plans to pass a few local voter initiatives that accomplish one or more of the following, to the extent possible under the state laws in question:
(1) Reducing/eliminating local penalties for prostitution violations.
(2) Reducing/banning the use of local tax money to enforce state prostitution laws.
(3) Refusing to accept federal funding that exacerbates the harms of prostitution laws.
(4) Expressing local support for reforming state/federal prostitution laws.
(5) Making the enforcement of prostitution laws the lowest priority for local law enforcement.
Overview of State-by-State Strategy
DSW is initially focusing its limited resources on changing a few state laws through their legislatures. (Because statewide ballot initiatives are fantastically more expensive than state-level lobbying, DSW won’t attempt to pass statewide initiatives until November 2021 or more likely November 2022.)
Regarding state legislatures, DSW prefers to work in low-population states that are more socially liberal than other states, which means states with relatively large populations of liberal and/or libertarian voters and state policymakers.
While DSW sometimes refers to itself as lobbying state legislatures, the organization is more often involved with building coalitions and changing public opinion in support of reforming prostitution laws. This work doesn’t happen in its own silo, but rather is part of a synergistic cycle, where successes with coalition building (or lobbying) generate — and benefit from — positive media coverage and increased funding levels.
Types of State Laws
The ultimate goal is to remove all penalties associated with consensual sex among adults, which is oftentimes called “decriminalization.” This policy doesn’t mean “anything goes,” as penalties for the involvement of minors, force, or fraud would remain in place; this includes maintaining penalties for human trafficking.
(Of the four policy choices below, decriminalization and the “Nordic model” do not exist in the U.S.)
Decriminalization Supports the Health, Safety, and Rights of All.
This ideal policy would remove penalties for independent contractors (solo practitioners who are akin to housekeepers, caregivers for elderly or disabled people, or home-based hair stylists) as well as businesses (which have owners, waged employees, and discrete locations).
Criminalization Promotes Exploitation.
Except for the regulated brothels in rural parts of Nevada, prostitution and related acts are criminalized everywhere in the U.S. This widespread criminalization keeps the sex industry underground; removes the ability of workers to exert their rights or redress wrongs/violence committed against them; and places people in a cycle of arrest and incarceration.
“Legalization” Doesn't Solve the Problem.
A law that allows only brothels (licensed businesses at specific locations only) is called the “legalization” model. This policy, which describes Nevada’s law, represents a partially good law that should nevertheless be avoided, because prostitution in the privacy of hotel rooms or bedrooms should not be criminalized. The partial approach of “legalization” is akin to arresting your hairdresser neighbor who styles your hair in your home instead of her salon, or allowing alcohol consumption in bars but criminalizing it in your kitchen.
The “Nordic” Model Is Harmful.
Another type of partial measure is the so-called “Nordic” or “Swedish” model, which imposes criminal penalties on clients but not sex workers. This isn’t even a compromise but rather a thoroughly bad policy, as it’s akin to allowing a store to sell alcohol but criminalizing the customers. (The result is that customers continue paying for sex in the criminal arena, jeopardizing the liberty of both parties and the safety of the community.)
While DSW advocates for simple, inclusive decriminalization laws, there are also partial measures that would provide some degree of immediate relief, while also making complete decriminalization more likely in the future. These partial victories might include:
- Prohibiting police from having sex or sexual interactions as a way of establishing “evidence” of paid sex.
- Reducing fines and shortening jail sentences.
- Permitting paid sex for disabled adults (which can be defined in numerous ways).
- Removing penalties for loitering where no other criminal behavior is involved.
- Protecting “good Samaritans” who are involved with paid sex and witness violence, the involvement of minors, or other illegal activities that fall outside the ambit of consensual adult sex.
DSW is a 501(c)(3) tax-deductible educational organization. And its lobbying branch, the similarly named Campaign to Decriminalize Sex Work, is a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization. These two nonprofit organizations’ portions of the combined budget shown here are 90% and 10%, respectively.
If DSW and CDSW collectively raise more money than the estimated revenues shown here, the excess funds would be reissued as grants to the most effective allied organizations in the U.S.