Councilmember David Grosso Re-Introduces Legislation To Decriminalize Sex Work in D.C.

For Immediate Release: 
June 3, 2019

Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Councilmember David Grosso re-introduces legislation to decriminalize sex work in D.C.

Washington, D.C. – With increased support from Council colleagues, Councilmember David Grosso today announced the re-introduction of legislation that would reduce violence and improve public health and safety by removing criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange in the District of Columbia.

“It is long past time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex—and move from one of criminalization to a new approach that focuses on human rights, health, and safety,” Grosso said at a press conference and rally held in support of the bill with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition on Monday.

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 eliminates criminal prohibitions and penalties for consensual sex work and establishes a task force to evaluate the effects of removing criminal penalties and recommend further improvements to public safety, health, and human rights.

“By removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help connect them to the services they need to live safer and healthier lives, and more easily tackle the complaints we hear from communities about trash or noise,” Grosso said.

Removing criminal penalties for engaging in sexual exchange reduces public violence and protects sex workers. People in the sex trade are safest when their work is not criminalized. It allows them to better screen clients, to negotiate safer sex practices, and to report incidents of trafficking or client and police violence.

“Decriminalizing sex work will make life easier not only for the people that complain about K Street, but also for the girls who are getting turned away from jobs, housing, health care, and more. Everyone needs to survive, and everyone needs to make money. If Sis has to turn to sex work so she can buy a room or so she can eat, don't send her to jail,” said Tiara Moten, Lead Organizer with No Justice No Pride.

Eighty percent of sex workers report experiencing some form of violence in the course of their work. This is especially true for sex workers from communities that already face increased discrimination such as immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and individuals of color. Criminalization discourages sex workers from reporting these incidents.

“It is appropriate that we address this issue at the start of LGBTQ Pride month that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn. We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender individuals engage in sex work at higher rates, making decriminalization of sex work an LGBTQ issue,” said Benjamin Brooks, Assistant Director for Policy at Whitman Walker Health. “Removing criminal penalties recognizes the dignity of the individual and removes key barriers to preventing HIV and improving health for our communities.”

"As a faith leader, a Black woman, and an advocate for abused and neglected children, at-risk youth, adjudicated youth, victims of domestic violence, women’s issues, and cancer patients I believe that Black women deserve to live free from violence and provide for themselves and their families. I support the decriminalization of sex work because criminalization only harms our communities and we must support and love one another not ostracize each other,” said Rev. Shirley Currie, associate minister at Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Protections for minors and prohibitions against coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking already exists in D.C. law and remain untouched by Grosso’s bill.

“This legislation slightly differs from the previous version by leaving some language in the code making it crystal clear that coercion, exploitation, and human trafficking are not tolerated in D.C.,” Grosso said.

Grosso’s proposal now enjoys expanded support on the Council. Only Councilmember Robert White co-introduced the legislation back in 2017. This time, Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau have added their names.

Grosso developed the legislation in close partnership with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC), a coalition of more than nearly two dozen local and national organizations: HIPS, ACLU DC, GLAA, Collective Action for Safe Spaces, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, Amara Legal Center, National Center for Trans Equality, Whitman Walker Health, Casa Ruby, Best Practices Policy Project, SWOP-USA, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Black Lives Matter DMV, No Justice No Pride, D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Bread for the City, Network for Victims Recovery DC, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Ultraviolet, Center for Health and Gender Equity, and URGE.

“I want to thank everyone who has contributed their voice to the development of this legislation, has endorsed its approach, or engaged with elected officials to build to the unprecedented level of support we see here today,” Grosso said. “ I also want to appreciate all the sex worker activists who have spoken out for their human rights, from Sharmus Outlaw here in D.C., to Gabriela Leite in Brazil, to countless others around the world.”

The bill will officially be re-introduced tomorrow, June 4, 2019 at the Council's regular legislative meeting. It will likely be referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

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RI Legislators Hear From Experts On Impact of Prostitution Laws

COYOTE Rhode Island
www.COYOTERI.org

Contact Bella Robinson, Executive Director
Bella@coyoteri.org
(401) 525-8757  (cell)
Providence, RI
April 30, 2019

RI Legislators Hear From Experts On Impact of Prostitution Laws

The Rhode Island legislature is considering a bill (HB 5354) sponsored by Chairwoman Anastasia Williams to create a special study commission to review the health and safety impact of commercial sexual activity laws. In a historic moment, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee will hear from a broad range of experts and advocates about the impact criminal prostitution laws have had on our community. Research indicates a clear correlation between repressive policing and negative health and safety outcomes.

On April 30th, 2019, shortly after 4pm, the House Judiciary Committee will hear from Dame Catherine Healy, New Zealand Order of Merit, who will tell legislators what happened after New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003. Scott Cunningham, PhD, Professor, Baylor University who studied the impact that decriminalizing indoor sex work in RI has had on rates of sexually transmitted infections and sexual assault.

The committee will also hear from members of COYOTE-RI including Elena Shih, PhD, Assistant Professor at Brown University, Bella Robinson, the Executive Director of COYOTE-RI, Meghan Peterson, an MPH candidate at Brown University, Yeonhoo Cho, a student, Brown University, Malana Krongelb, a student, Brown University, and Dayana Tavarez, a student, Brown University.

Also testifying will be Philip Chan, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Brown University & Medical Director of Rhode Island STD Clinic, Katherine Kerwin, Providence City Council, Kate Mogulescu, JD, Assistant Professor, Brooklyn Law School & Founder of the Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Unit, Jillian Modzeleski, JD, Senior Trial Attorney in Charge of the Human Trafficking Intervention Court, Jill McCracken, PhD, Associate Professor, University of South Florida and Melissa Broudo, JD, MPH, Co Director of SOAR Institute.

We cannot continue to support policies that sound good on paper, but actually do a disservice to the people they aim to support. In this case, we aim to engage in research and study this issue further to ensure our laws support all people engaged in the sex industry.

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 what criminalizing sex work actually looks like: vulnerable women in handcuffs. DSW and SWOP Behind Borders staged a news conference in Orlando to push the messages of LISTEN TO SEX WORKERS; JUST STOP THE ARRESTS; and HELP, NOT HANDCUFFS.

SWOP Behind Bars, SWOP Orlando, SWOP Tampa, the Sex Worker Solidarity Network, and FL NOW stood together to stand up for sex worker rights and the women of Florida. They spoke about the devastating impact of arrests and the bad bills being pushed through the Florida legislature that would create a prostitution registry and increase police surveillance of sex workers.

Lawmakers want to help victims of human trafficking, but they can't do that if they refuse to listen to sex workers.

The media is starting to take note of what’s happening in Florida:

A Government Database for People Who Pay for Sex Is a Terrible, Dangerous Idea (Vice; May 10, 2019)

Florida Is Creating a New Sex Offender Registry Just for Prostitution Customers (Reason, May 9, 2019)

Read our press release here.

Sex Workers and Allies To Hold Press Conference in Orlando, FL — Monday, April 22, 2019

Sex Workers and Allies To Hold Press Conference in Orlando, FL — Monday, April 22, 2019

We, SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project) Tampa, SWOP Orlando, SWOP Behind Bars, Sex Worker Solidarity Network, Decriminalize Sex Work, Florida NOW, and more, have gathered together today to ask our lawmakers to listen to sex workers and stop these arrests.

All eyes are on Florida because of Robert Kraft’s high-profile hand job, but the raids that targeted 10 massage parlors in South Florida are part of a growing national trend. We are standing here today to raise awareness about the terrible consequences of siccing the police on vulnerable people. We are here today to offer solutions to this country’s trafficking problem.

We must stop the arrests.

Handcuffs do not help. The police are not protecting people in the sex trade; they are hunting them. All of the women that Florida police claimed that they “rescued” are facing multiple felony charges. Each and every one of them was handcuffed, their money confiscated, their license and legal residency threatened; over half of them are still in police custody. If any of these women were in a bad situation before, they are even worse off now.

We are asking lawmakers, the media, and the citizens of Florida to listen to sex workers.

Sex workers from all over the state are organizing against a proposed Prostitution Registry. We know that this law will not help victims of sex trafficking, it will not punish violent offenders, it will only make sex work harder and more dangerous for everyone by pushing it further underground. Lawmakers should listen to us. No one is more motivated to stop violence and exploitation within the sex industry than sex workers.

Sex workers, survivors, and allies are organizing all over the country. We are all asking for decriminalization.

Decriminalizing sex work will stop these arrests. Police departments will be able to focus on violent criminals, and it will give sex workers and trafficking victims the ability to advocate for themselves without fear of arrest.

If you want to help victims, stop arresting people in the sex trade and instead start listening to them.

Sex Workers and Allies To Hold News Conference in Orlando, FL

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org  (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
April 18, 2019

Sex Workers and Allies to Hold News Conference in Orlando, FL

Responding to the escalation of police stings targeting minority-owned massage parlors, sex workers and their allies will be holding a news conference on April 22 in Orlando.  To illustrate that this is a statewide problem, the news conference is being held in the center of the state during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

WHO: Kaytlin Bailey, a former sex worker from Decriminalize Sex Work; Kim Porteous, Vice President of Greater Orlando NOW; Maya Moreno, an undocumented immigrant and sex worker from Honduras; and advocated for harm reduction and victims rights will join SWOP Behind Bars, SWOP Orlando, and SWOP Tampa Bay.  (“SWOP” stands for “Sex Workers Outreach Project”.)

WHAT: Holding handcuffs and standing in front of the courthouse, holding signs protesting the arrest and incarceration of people in the sex industry.

WHEN: 12:00 to 12:45 on Monday, April 22, 2019

WHERE: Front of City Hall at 400 S. Orange Ave., Orlando, FL 32703

WHY: Laws targeting sex workers are a war on women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and immigrants. The vulnerable communities impacted by overzealous policing are demanding to be heard in Florida.

Those speaking at the protest will highlight that people who are charged with prostitution are not being “rescued” when they’re arrested, detained, imprisoned, and given lifelong criminal records. This stigma then follows them for the rest of their lives, often making it harder to find jobs, obtain housing, or report abusive situations to the police.

“Sex work should be decriminalized, because our government has no right to police our bodies,” said Kaytlin Bailey, the communications director for a new national organization called Decriminalize Sex Work. “Arresting sex workers isn’t a way of protecting them.  It’s a way of protecting societal patriarchy.”

If you are unable to attend the press conference, a live stream will be available here: livefeed.decriminalizesex.work

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Sex Workers Are Organizing Against Proposed Prostitution Registry in Florida

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org  (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NY
March 26, 2019

Sex Workers Are Organizing Against Proposed Prostitution Registry in Florida

Half a dozen sex worker rights activists traveled from all over Florida to fight a proposed law that will target them and their clients. They are building a coalition of organizations to fight efforts to increase surveillance and policing of the oldest profession, including a new prostitution registry which would permanently and publicly list anyone arrested for prostitution-related offenses.

Florida Senate Bill 540 and House Bill 851 falsely claim to be trying to help victims of human trafficking, but sex workers know that these laws will only make violence and exploitation within the sex industry worse. Alex Andrews from SWOP Behind Bars has been fighting for people incarcerated for prostitution for 11 years, she’s seen up close the devastating effects of criminalization.

Andrews said, “These lawmakers think they’re helping but they won’t listen to us. We know how to stop trafficking, we can start by stopping the arrests for prostitution.”

Grace Taylor, who traveled from Tampa, told legislators that “They need to listen to sex workers. I’ve been a sex worker for over 15 years, I’m in my 50’s. Listen to me.”

Christine Hanavan traveled from Orlando to  explain to her elected officials that policing prostitution doesn’t help anyone, least of all victims of trafficking. Hanavan  said, “Our concerns are for survivors and current victims of human trafficking in the sex industry, adult consensual sex workers, and people who don’t fit neatly into one category. All of us share the goal of ending human trafficking. All of us want better services for victims and survivors.”

Six brave women are speaking to their elected representatives in Florida today. Let’s see if their legislators can hear them. They are joined by Florida National Organization for Women (NOW,) the National Center for Transgender Equality, Positive Women’s Network-USA, Restorative Justice Coalition, Sex Worker Solidarity Network, Sex Worker Outreach Program (SWOP) Behind Bars, SWOP Tampa & SWOP Orlando.

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Eight Women Charged With Prostitution After “Rescue Operation”

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work

Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org   (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NY
March 7, 2019

Eight Women Charged With Prostitution After “Rescue Operation”

Only one woman arrested during the much acclaimed “rescue operation” in South Florida last week is willing to cooperate with police. So instead of being rescued, eight women are now being charged with prostitution and related crimes.

The police have spent the last week bragging about their role in breaking up a “multi billion dollar international sex trafficking ring.” They had a splashy press conference and they named and shamed a lot of men who paid for hand jobs over the course of their investigation.

After months of surveillance, there is no evidence of trafficking and no one is being charged with those crimes. Instead, eight women were handcuffed and humiliated; their assets have been seized; and they have all been charged with prostitution. Decriminalize Sex Work Director of Communications Kaytlin Bailey says, “The police have the audacity to call these bullying tactics a rescue operation.”

Multiple agencies in South Florida have spent the better part of a year investigating three massage parlors and determined that on average, once every three days a licensed, legally working masseur helps her client achieve ejaculation. Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars went toward this discovery.

There were no complaints from the spa’s neighbors or passersby. The only complaint seemed to be that there weren’t enough hand jobs happening on the premises. More than half of the Yelp reviews expressed disappointment that they had wanted sexual contact but did not receive it.  Some clients did receive sexual contact. And some of that contact was with undercover police officers who felt it necessary to have their balls touched before arresting these “sex slaves.”

On November 26, 2017, the NYPD tried to “rescue” Yang Song in Flushing, Queens. She threw herself out of a third story window and fell to her death. She landed at the foot of the undercover police officer who moments before was trying to entrap her. Bailey continues, “These officers are not heroes, they’re bullies. They literally kill the women they claim to be rescuing.”

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Ohio Vice Cop Forces Women To Choose Between Arrest and Rape

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org  (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK
March 5, 2019

Ohio Vice Cop Forces Women to Choose Between Arrest and Rape

The criminalization of sex workers makes them more vulnerable to predators who want to rape or kill them. Andrew Mitchell, the Ohio police officer who murdered single mother and sex worker Donna Dalton after trapping her in his unmarked vehicle last August, has been arrested by the FBI for kidnapping and raping multiple women. The Columbus, Ohio, vice cop is accused of trapping women “under the guise of an arrest,” transporting them to another location, and offering his victims freedom in exchange for oral, vaginal and anal sex.

Kaytlin Bailey, director of communications for Decriminalize Sex Work, says, “The criminalization of sex work perverts the power of police officers, and enables predators like Mitchell to prey on women instead of protecting them.”

Crystal DeBoise, an anti-trafficking expert and advocate, says “Although U.S. police departments don’t release information about their officers having sexual contact with sex workers, in my 10 years of providing direct social services to sex workers, I can tell you that at least 40% have been forced or coerced into sexual contact with a police officer.”

There is also no national data on how many police officers have abused sex workers, or suspected sex workers. In many states it is legal for law enforcement officers to make sexual contact with those suspected of prostitution and then use that sexual contact to make an arrest. In any other context we would call this what it is, rape. Bailey says, “Police officers are already literally hunting prostitutes.”

Bailey concludes, “The difference between what Mitchell did and what police departments are asked to do all over the country is how much paperwork was involved.”

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What Robert Kraft Did Should Not Be Illegal

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work
Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org  (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NY
February 22, 2019

What Robert Kraft Did Should Not Be Illegal

In response to the high-profile arrest of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, for getting a “happy ending” massage from a spa in south Florida that’s well known for providing such services, we believe it is time to reevaluate the way we police prostitution. The Juniper police are trying to convince the press, and the public, that Mr. Kraft and the 200 other people being charged in relation to this sting operation are human traffickers, but law enforcement has provided no evidence that any minors — or victims of force, fraud, or coercion — were involved.

Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications for Decriminalize Sex Work, said, “If no minors or coercion were involved, no one should have been arrested, including Mr. Kraft.” Far from bullying or coercing an unwilling massage therapist into committing sex acts against their will, Mr. Kraft and the other patrons limited their “solicitations” to a well known “rub and tug” establishment.

In addition to facing up to 60 days in jail, Mr. Kraft and the other men arrested will be forced to attend and pay for classes colloquially called “John Schools,” many of which are religiously affiliated and conflate all forms of adult consensual sex work with the rare and terrible crime of human trafficking.

The police in Palm Beach, Florida spent months and thousands of taxpayer dollars surveilling this spa. They staged a bomb threat to evacuate the building in order to install hidden cameras, and they spent hundreds of police hours spying on unwitting people. Currently, Palm Beach has over 8,500 unsolved rape cases. Bailey continued, “Instead of arresting men who pay women money for sex acts, police should be investigating the men who think they can just take it.”

Alex Andrews, cofounder of SWOP Behind Bars, which is based in Florida, said, “All of the so-called victims in this case were taken away in handcuffs. If the police were serious about combating human trafficking, they’d be investigating hotels, restaurants, and the agricultural industry. Arresting adults for consensual sex helps no one.”

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Florida Senate Considers Creating Prostitution Registry

Decriminalize Sex Work
www.DecriminalizeSex.Work

Contact Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications
kaytlin@dswork.org (919) 649-7725 (cell)

NEW YORK, NY
February 21, 2019

Florida Senate Considers Creating Prostitution Registry

Florida Senate Bill 540 with the Orwellian title “Human Trafficking” would create a registry for people found guilty of the loosely defined crime of “soliciting, inducing, enticing, or procuring” another to commit “prostitution, lewdness, or assignation.” Such people, once prosecuted, would be added to a registry entitled “Soliciting for Prostitution Registry.” Registries have long been a dystopian nightmare for sex workers, as stigma against the profession all but guarantees a host of predictable and preventable problems — from future employment discrimination, to ugly custody battles and domestic violence.

This bill, if it becomes a law, would also require any public lodging establishment to train its employees in the dubious skill of spotting “human trafficking.” These notorious trainings are conducted by a tapestry of organizations that profit from the conflation of sex work between consenting adults with trafficking, which is legally defined only when a minor is involved or there is force, fraud, or coercion.

Alex Andrews — co-founder of Sex Worker Outreach Program Behind Bars, a national social justice organization dedicated to the rights of people who face discrimination in the criminal justice system due to the stigma associated with the sex trade — says, “A prostitution registry is yet another legislative knee jerk reaction to a community based problem that will cause far more harm to marginalized members of our community.” Andrews points out that “women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population” and that “policies like this will just make it harder for people to escape a punitive criminal justice system that offers no solutions for people in poverty.”

“This bill is part of a national trend cracking down on the freedom of movement for women, trans people and other overly policed minorities,” said Kaytlin Bailey, Director of Communications for Decriminalize Sex Work. “Historically, efforts to police the oldest profession have resulted in policies that trap the very people these laws are ostensibly supposed to help.” The mission of Decriminalize Sex Work, a new national organization, is “to end the prohibition of prostitution in the United States.”  

Alex Andrews says, “Surely we have evolved from a culture that punishes a human being with a scarlet letter that they can’t escape. Let’s create better and more accessible services for victims and survivors, not force them to sign up for a lifetime of discrimination.” Her organization hopes to see efforts to prevent trafficking redirected to services that might help people escape cycles of poverty instead of punishing them. Kaytlin Bailey adds that “if hotels, airlines, restaurants, and state governments want to crack down on labor trafficking and exploitation I suggest they allow unions to advocate for better working conditions, not sic the police on the most vulnerable.”

Both organizations are a part of the growing sex-workers rights movement. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine published research showing that sex workers suffering under repressive policing are three times more likely to experience violence as those who live in countries like New Zealand, where prostitution is no longer a crime. This study bolsters the recommendations and official policies of the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and the ACLU, all of which support ending criminalization.  

You can contact Alex Andrews for comment at alex@swopusa.org or (407)310-0879.

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