October 21, 2020
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a research brief entitled “Is Sex Work Decriminalization the Answer? What the Research Tells Us.” Developed in consultation with local advocates and sex-worker-rights affiliates, the report reviews existing evidence on the impact of sex work decriminalization and criminalization, and what this data tells us about the development of public policy. Growing evidence points to the potential benefits of full decriminalization.
The ACLU has advocated for the decriminalization of sex work for more than 40 years. The organization bases its position on the empirical health and safety outcomes of decriminalization, as well as qualitative evidence from the experiences of sex workers themselves. As the issue grows in national and local recognition, this research brief is intended to consolidate conclusive findings on the impact of different legislative models. The report ultimately finds that “research points to negative impacts of criminalization on the physical safety, health, and financial well-being of sex workers.” These indicators are amplified when looking at the impact of criminalization on marginalized communities such as lesbian/gay/bisexual and transgender/gender-nonconforming individuals, people of color, immigrants, and those without adequate financial resources.
We hope that policymakers will heed the ACLU’s expert recommendations: fully decriminalizing consensual adult sex work, limiting police presence within the sex work community and ensuring consequences and accountability for those who physically and sexually abuse sex workers, repealing laws and policies that prevent sex workers from safely screening their clients online, and removing barriers to HIV prevention and other healthcare. We cannot overstate the implications of this report for the holistic safety of our communities. Sex worker rights are human rights.