DSW Research and Project Manager Testifies at Legislative Study Commission

June 13, 2022

DSW Research and Project Manager J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly presented on the intersection of LGBTQIA individuals and sex workers’ rights at the June 13 meeting of a legislative study commission in Rhode Island. Oshiro-Brantly co-presented with Henri June Bynx, who is also a sex worker and activist.

Their presentation highlighted the parallels in the criminalization and stigmatization of sex work, gender identity, and sexual orientation. It delved into the inextricable links between the deleterious effects of marginalization both for sex workers and LGBTQIA individuals and their converging fights for equal freedoms and treatment under law. Oshiro-Brantly and Bynx grounded their presentation in data from Rhode Island and beyond demonstrating that LGBTQIA individuals and particularly those who engage in sex work are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice sytem. They face harassment, profiling, and discrimination — and, once saddled with a criminal record because of this, they face extraordinary barriers to housing, employment, and other critical resources necessary to sustain life.

Their presentation concluded with the below recommendations for Rhode Island, though these recommendations are widely applicable to all states and municipalities:

1. Pass a law that grants immunity from prosecution to people engaged in commercial sexual activity if they report to law enforcement that they are victims of or witnesses to a crime. (Read more about Immunity/Good Samaritan laws as they relate to sex work here.)

2. Fully decriminalize consensual adult sex work.

3. Repeal “Loitering for Prostitution” and “Loitering for Indecent Purposes” which have become known as “Walking While Trans Bans” as law enforcement uses these statutes to profile, harass, and arrest transgender women.

4. Repeal Section a. In the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Law (§ 11-34.1-12), which stipulates that: (a) Any person convicted of a violation of any provisions of chapter 34 shall be required to be tested for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). No consent for the testing shall be required.

5. Pass House Bill 5464 — patients will not be denied appropriate healthcare on the basis of their sex work history.

6. Pass Senate Bill 249/ House Bill 6049 — which would create a new criminal offense of “custodial sexual assault,” which occurs when a peace officer perpetrates a sexual assault while a victim is in their custody.

The RI study commission was formed last year following the unanimous passage of House Resolution 5250, which proposed a special legislative commission to study ensuring racial equity and optimizing health and safety laws affecting marginalized individuals. The bill, as passed, delineated who should sit on the commission, which includes 13 members, including individuals with lived experience. Other members of the commission include two legislators, a member of COYOTE RI, a representative from Amnesty International, two representatives of organizations serving populations disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of commercial sex, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, an attorney from the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, the Rhode Island attorney general, or designee, a representative from the Brown University Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the president of the Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association, or their designee.

DSW advocates for the creation of study commissions focused on evaluating prostitution laws, addressing trafficking concerns, and identifying better ways to create support systems for both sex workers and trafficked people. A study commission should examine and provide recommendations on the health and safety impacts of revising laws related to commercial sexual activity; identify the methods of human trafficking and exploitation to develop strategies to reduce these activities; and ensure accountability in the treatment of marginalized and targeted communities by police. Prostitution laws are often applied in a way that creates an environment in which exploitation thrives. Those laws often disproportionately harm already marginalized communities. They also fail to meaningfully address the issue of human trafficking. There is a need to comprehensively research and then reform legal and support systems around sex work and trafficking in order to keep people safe and ensure access to resources.

Read our fact sheet on study commissions to review existing laws and address trafficking and exploitation here.

J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly, Henri June Bynx, and Alison Kolins stand in front of the Rhode Island State House.

J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly, Henri June Bynx, and Alison Kolins stand in front of the Rhode Island State House.

DSW Newsletter #37 (June 2022)

Burlington’s Vote To Strike Language on Sex Work From City Charter Becomes Law

June 8, 2022 Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed H.746, An act relating to an amendment to the charter of the City of Burlington, striking harmful language from the city’s charter. In March, 69% of Burlington residents voted...
Read More
Burlington’s Vote To Strike Language on Sex Work From City Charter Becomes Law

DSW Research and Project Manager Testifies at Legislative Study Commission

June 13, 2022 DSW Research and Project Manager J. Leigh Oshiro-Brantly presented on the intersection of LGBTQIA individuals and sex workers’ rights at the June 13 meeting of a legislative study commission in Rhode Island. Oshiro-Brantly co-presented with...
Read More
DSW Research and Project Manager Testifies at Legislative Study Commission

A Long Overdue Bill Repealing the “Walking While Trans Ban” Heads to Gov. Newsom’s Desk

June 20, 2022 Nine months after passing the legislature, a bill that would repeal a provision of California law that prohibits “loitering in public for the purpose of engaging in prostitution” is in Governor Newsom’s hands. He...
Read More
A Long Overdue Bill Repealing the “Walking While Trans Ban” Heads to Gov. Newsom’s Desk

DSW Staff Commemorates Pride

June 26, 2022 DSW staff and allies took to the streets to show their support for LGBTQIA rights. They joined NYC’s Queer Liberation March for Trans and BIPOC Freedom, Reproductive Justice, and bodily autonomy. DSW Newsletter #37...
Read More
DSW Staff Commemorates Pride

DSW Newsletter Archive

DSW Legal Director Testifies During Legislative Study Commission

April 25, 2022

DSW Legal Director Melissa Broudo presented on the differences and distinctions between human trafficking and consensual adult sex work at the April 25 meeting of a legislative study commission in Rhode Island. She co-presented with a survivor of human trafficking, Danielle Ozuna, who shared her experience of coercion and exploitation. The study commission was formed last year following the unanimous passage of House Resolution 5250, which proposed a special legislative commission to study ensuring racial equity and optimizing health and safety laws affecting marginalized individuals. The bill, as passed, delineated who should sit on the commission, which includes thirteen members, including individuals with lived experience. Other members of the commission include two legislators, a member of COYOTE RI, a representative from Amnesty International, two representatives of organizations serving populations disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of commercial sex, the director of the Department of Health, an attorney from the Rhode Island Public Defender’s Office, the Rhode Island attorney general, or designee, a representative from the Brown University Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, and the president of the Rhode Island Police Chief's Association, or their designee.

The study commission has met monthly since fall of 2021 with experts from both within the commission and outside of it testifying at each meeting. In her capacity as legal director at DSW and with over twenty years of experience representing and advocating for the legal rights of consensual adult sex workers and survivors of human trafficking, Broudo spoke about the devastating consequences of the conflation of consensual adult sex work and human trafficking. Broudo attended law school and received a Master of Public Health degree because she has long been interested in improving the health and safety of individuals engaged in commercial sex whether by choice or force, fraud, or coercion. She helped to draft the legislation proposing the study commission as she believes that public policy should be informed by research and evidence. The commission will present its findings to the legislature next year.

Read news coverage of the April 25 commission meeting here.

DSW advocates for the creation of study commissions focused on evaluating prostitution laws, addressing trafficking concerns, and identifying better ways to create support systems for both sex workers and trafficked people.

A study commission should examine and provide recommendations on the health and safety impacts of revising laws related to commercial sexual activity; identify the methods of human trafficking and exploitation to develop strategies to reduce these activities; and ensure accountability in the treatment of marginalized and targeted communities by police. Prostitution laws are often applied in a way that creates an environment in which exploitation thrives. Those laws often disproportionately harm already marginalized communities. They also fail to meaningfully address the issue of human trafficking. There is a need to comprehensively research and then reform legal and support systems around sex work and trafficking in order to keep people safe and ensure access to resources.

Read our fact sheet on study commissions to review existing laws and address trafficking and exploitation here.

Melissa Broudo testifies during the April 25 legislative commission meeting.

Melissa Broudo testifies during the April 25 legislative commission meeting.

DSW Newsletter #36 (May 2022)

Vermont Legislature Ratifies Burlington’s Vote To Strike Archaic and Discriminatory Language from City Charter

May 10, 2022 The Vermont Senate voted to pass Burlington’s charter change, striking harmful language from the city charter. In March, 69% of Burlington residents voted to support equity, safety, and dignity by opting to remove the...
Read More
Vermont Legislature Ratifies Burlington’s Vote To Strike Archaic and Discriminatory Language from City Charter

DSW, Allies, and Elected Officials Urge NY Legislature To Offer Immunity to Sex Workers & Survivors of Trafficking

May 10, 2022 Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) — as part of ImmunityNY, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing harm and increasing safety by passing S.2233-A (Sepulveda)/A.255-A (Gottfried) — organized and participated in a day of meetings...
Read More
DSW, Allies, and Elected Officials Urge NY Legislature To Offer Immunity to Sex Workers & Survivors of Trafficking

DSW Legal Director Testifies During Legislative Study Commission

April 25, 2022 DSW Legal Director Melissa Broudo presented on the differences and distinctions between human trafficking and consensual adult sex work at the April 25 meeting of a legislative study commission in Rhode Island. She co-presented...
Read More
DSW Legal Director Testifies During Legislative Study Commission

DSW Staff Share Their Expertise

May 2, 2022 Throughout the month of May, DSW staff participated in a number of panels and discussions highlighting the harms of criminalization, pending legislation on sex work, and reminding sex workers of their rights! DSW Legal...
Read More
DSW Staff Share Their Expertise

DSW Newsletter Archive

DSW Testified on Important Sex Work Bills in RI

April 5, 2022

DSW’s legal director, Melissa Broudo, and staff attorney, Rebecca Cleary, traveled to Rhode Island to testify in support of three important bills making their way through the Rhode Island Legislature. As DSW works towards our ultimate goal of the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work, we are advocating for incremental measures that will reduce exploitation and violence perpetrated against sex workers and survivors of trafficking. If passed, the three bills introduced in RI, which Broudo and Cleary testified in support of, would bring immediate health and safety benefits to individuals engaged in sex work.

H7704, currently being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee, grants immunity from prosecution for commercial sexual activity to any victim or witness of a crime if they report the offense to law enforcement, seek or receive health care services as a result of their involvement or witnessing the offense, or assist or attempt to assist in the investigation and prosecution of the offense. Importantly, this protection is honored even if they later withdraw their cooperation.

People involved in the sex trade (whether by choice or by force, fraud, or coercion) are often victims of violent crime and exploitation, but frequently don’t report crimes perpetrated against them due to fear of arrest. When abusers are not reported to law enforcement, they are able to continue acts of violence and exploitation with impunity. Immunity laws allow sex workers and trafficked people to safely report crimes and seek medical care without the fear that they themselves will be criminalized. They equip law enforcement entities with an increased ability to identify, investigate, and convict perpetrators of violence and trafficking. Immunity laws directly protect victims and witnesses of violence and they ultimately benefit all communities by allowing law enforcement to better detect criminal activity.

H6637 / S2233, in committee, establishes criteria for the criminal offense of sexual assault when the victim is in the custody of a peace officer. It provides that a person convicted of custodial sexual assault would face imprisonment for not more than three years. Forty states have laws making sexual interaction between a law enforcement agent and a person in their custody illegal.

As Broudo wrote, “Most people cannot believe police are permitted to do this. The reality is that they should not, but that they do, on quite a regular basis. Sex workers and those profiled as sex workers — especially transgender women of color — are subject to routine sexual assault by police offering ‘deals’ (‘if you do this, I will not arrest you now’). This is not consent — in fact, it is the very definition of coercion. Other states, including Nevada and Pennsylvania, are currently considering similar laws to punish custodial sexual assault. To say there is a power imbalance between law enforcement and those in their custody would be a severe understatement — people who are in custody have no agency, have fear about what is to come, and are at the complete and total mercy of those who have taken them into custody. There cannot possibly be a consensual sexual encounter between someone in custody and the person in charge of their freedom. When you think of who may be in custody, there is a disproportionate chance that person will be part of a marginalized or more vulnerable group [people of color, specifically Black and Brown people, are significantly more likely to be arrested]. When it comes to sex work, Black and Brown women, especially transgender women, are the most likely to be arrested - and also the most vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and stigma. These factors are easily exploited by law enforcement.”

H7672, currently in committee, mandates a patient shall “be afforded respectful, considerate care” not be be discriminated against on any basis including age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or income source or profession.

Healthcare access is critical for the rights and safety of all. This is especially true when it comes to sex workers who face increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexual assault, and physical assault as a result of the criminalization of their work. Many sex workers do not seek critical healthcare because they have faced discrimination, or reporting to law enforecement  by medical professionals. Protection against discrimination in seeking care is not only life-saving, it’s an important step in protecting against the spread of STIs, and increasing resource access for some of our most underserved community members.

Further, healthcare providers serve a critical role in identifying and helping to report (with the patient’s permission) instances of human trafficking. Unfortunately, because of the criminalization of commericial sex, individuals trafficked for the purpose of selling sex are afraid to seek services. This is not only a violation of human rights, it is a public health and safety concern. We must make safe, confidential, and appropriate healthcare resources available to all individuals.

Rebecca Cleary testifies in front of the RI House Judiciary Committee.

Rebecca Cleary testifies in front of the RI House Judiciary Committee.

Melissa Broudo testifies in front of the RI House Judiciary Committee.

Melissa Broudo testifies in front of the RI House Judiciary Committee.

DSW Newsletter #35 (April 2022)

DSW Testified on Important Sex Work Bills in RI

April 5, 2022 DSW’s legal director, Melissa Broudo, and staff attorney, Rebecca Cleary, traveled to Rhode Island to testify in support of three important bills making their way through the Rhode Island Legislature. As DSW works towards...
Read More
DSW Testified on Important Sex Work Bills in RI

CO Quickly Advances the Safe Reporting Assaults Suffered by Sex Workers Act

April 20, 2022 The Safe Reporting Assaults Suffered by Sex Workers Act, HB22-1288, allows sex workers to come forward to report a crime, access medical or emergency services, or both, if they are in need or witness another...
Read More
CO Quickly Advances the Safe Reporting Assaults Suffered by Sex Workers Act

DSW Report Finds Strong Racial and Gender Biases in Prostitution and Trafficking Enforcement

April 15, 2022 DSW’s new report, “By the Numbers: New York’s Treatment of Sex Workers and Trafficking Survivors,” examined data that had not previously been examined in its totality. Our analysis demonstrates that racial and gender biases...
Read More
DSW Report Finds Strong Racial and Gender Biases in Prostitution and Trafficking Enforcement

Oregon Sex Workers Committee’s Human Rights Commission

April 11, 2022 The Oregon Sex Workers Committee (OSWC) hosted its second Human Rights Commission Hearing. The hearing, held in Eugene, OR, brought together a diverse group of individuals including sex workers, allies, and members of law...
Read More
Oregon Sex Workers Committee’s Human Rights Commission

STI Awareness Month

April 1, 2022 Each April, the American Sexual Health Organization (ASHA) recognizes Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Awareness Month. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize STI Awareness Week from April 10-16. According to ASHA:...
Read More
STI Awareness Month

Save the Dates

May 1, 2022 Sex Work Survival Guide Summit event link/registration Date: May 1, 2022 Times: 10am-12am EST — recording will be available per perpetuity online Cost: FREE May 2, 2022 Webinar: Pending Legislation on Sex Work Decriminalization...
Read More
Save the Dates

DSW Newsletter Archive

Experts Urge RI Legislators to Study Decriminalization

April 30, 2019

After months of planning and inviting an all-star cast of witnesses, DSW had its first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island Legislature. State Rep. Anastasia Williams (D) presented bill H5354, which would create a temporary commission to study the effects of laws prohibiting commercial sexual activity. Approximately 15 witnesses, invited by DSW and COYOTE Rhode Island, testified in favor of the bill, with no witnesses opposed. The potential study commission would be a crucial first step to legislative acceptance of decriminalizing sex work, as the commission is expected to provide accurate data and thoughtful recommendations to state officials in early 2020.

We had more than 35 letters of support from individuals and organizations all over the country including Amnesty International, St. James Infirmary, Dame Catherine Healy, SWOP Behind Bars, and many more.

This lobby process and bill could not have been possible without the incredible work and partnership with COYOTE Rhode Island and students, faculty, and staff at Brown University.

Read the bill text here and watch the testimony here.

From UpriseRI: Rhode Island House considers creating a study commission to examine laws on sex work

Kate Mogulescu, Esq., lead attorney for the ABA Survivor Reentry Project; Jillian Modzeleski, Esq., senior trial attorney for Human Trafficking Intervention Court; Dame Catherine Healy; Jill McCracken, PhD; Scott Cunningham, PhD; and Melissa Broudo, Esq. (L to R) work to prepare for their testimony before the RI House Judiciary Committee.

Jillian Modzeleski, Esq.; Elena Shih, PhD; Bella Robinson from COYOTE RI; Malana Krongelb, Brown student; Dayana Taverez, Brown student; Dame Catherine Healy; Scott Cunningham, PhD; Jill McCracken, PhD; Kate Mogulescu, Esq.; Yeonhoo Cho, Brown student; Melissa Broudo, Esq.; and Meghan Peterson, MPH candidate from Brown University (L to R) celebrate after their testimony before the RI House Judiciary Committee.

DSW Newsletter #2 (May 2019)

Sex Workers Host News Conference in Florida

April 22, 2019 All eyes are on Florida because of the high-profile stings on massage parlors. DSW teamed up with sex workers and allies in Florida to draw attention to...
Read More
Sex Workers Host News Conference in Florida

DSW Hosts Unity Reception in NYC

May 2, 2019 DSW hosted a delightful evening that was both a celebration and a rallying cry at the Cornell Club in NYC. With exquisite performances by Essence Revealed and...
Read More
DSW Hosts Unity Reception in NYC

Experts Urge RI Legislators to Study Decriminalization

April 30, 2019 After months of planning and inviting an all-star cast of witnesses, DSW had its first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee of the Rhode Island Legislature. State...
Read More
Experts Urge RI Legislators to Study Decriminalization

DSW Billboard Challenges Lawmakers in Florida

April 27, 2019 Multiple police departments in Florida have recently staged news conferences to cast themselves as heroes who have “rescued” women from “slavery” … by handcuffing them.  Devastating stings...
Read More
DSW Billboard Challenges Lawmakers in Florida
Sex Workers Host News Conference in Florida Sex Workers Host News Conference in...
DSW Hosts Unity Reception in NYC DSW Hosts Unity Reception in NYC
Experts Urge RI Legislators to Study Decriminalization Experts Urge RI Legislators to Study...
DSW Billboard Challenges Lawmakers in Florida DSW Billboard Challenges Lawmakers in Florida

DSW Newsletter Archive

DSW and allies lobby RI legislators

March 14, 2019

DSW teamed up with COYOTE RI and allied organizations to educate RI legislators about the negative impact of criminalizing prostitution.

DSW’s lobbyists and local RI advocates engaged legislators in one-on-one conversations on the House floor to push for a study commission that would reexamine the state’s prostitution laws. Most RI legislators agreed that the laws aren’t working, while there’s uncertainty about what better laws would look like.  A study commission would provide the forum for discussing solutions.

DSW Newsletter #1 (April 2019)

DSW and allies hold SESTA/FOSTA panel at SXSW

March 11, 2019 DSW teamed up with Alex Andrews from SWOP Behind Bars, Dan Savage, Larry Walters, and River del Llano from Uncage Love to discuss the dangerous implications of...
Read More
DSW and allies hold SESTA/FOSTA panel at SXSW

DSW Hosts Soiree With Dan Savage

March 11, 2019 DSW hosted in Austin a soiree with Dan Savage, donors, local activists, and panelists, where advocates for decriminalization shared strategies and stories. Libertarians, progressives, harm reduction advocates,...
Read More
DSW Hosts Soiree With Dan Savage

DSW and allies lobby RI legislators

March 14, 2019 DSW teamed up with COYOTE RI and allied organizations to educate RI legislators about the negative impact of criminalizing prostitution. DSW’s lobbyists and local RI advocates engaged...
Read More
DSW and allies lobby RI legislators

DSW Files Legal Brief in Federal Court Case

February 20, 2019 DSW drafted and submitted to a federal CA court a spirited amicus brief that challenges the constitutionality of the devastating SESTA/FOSTA law. This “friend of the court”...
Read More
DSW Files Legal Brief in Federal Court Case

DSW Hosts Panel at Seattle Summit

March 2, 2019 DSW hosted a panel at the Seattle Annual Sex Worker Summit after the debut of the documentary “War on Whores,” which investigates the harms of criminalizing sex...
Read More
DSW Hosts Panel at Seattle Summit
DSW and allies hold SESTA/FOSTA panel at SXSW DSW and allies hold SESTA/FOSTA panel...
DSW Hosts Soiree With Dan Savage DSW Hosts Soiree With Dan Savage
DSW and allies lobby RI legislators DSW and allies lobby RI legislators
DSW Files Legal Brief in Federal Court Case DSW Files Legal Brief in Federal...
DSW Hosts Panel at Seattle Summit DSW Hosts Panel at Seattle Summit

DSW Newsletter Archive

Melissa with Bella

March 1, 2019

Here is DSW’s Melissa Broudo with COYOTE Rhode Island organizer Bella Robinson. We're looking forward to being in Rhode Island this Thursday for another lobby day!

from L to R: Bella Robinson, DSW’s Melissa Broudo