Decriminalization Gaining Momentum in Oregon

November 16, 2021

Advocates in Oregon filed a petition on the Sex Worker Rights Act which would decriminalize consensual adult sex work with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. The petition will ideally allow voters in the 2022 election to show their support for human rights by decriminalizing sex work. The filing of the petition comes just a few weeks after the release of a report by the Oregon Sex Workers Committe (OSWC) demonstating the urgency of decriminalizing consensual adult prostitution in order to decrease exploitation and violence.

The 50-page report, titled “The Oregon Human Rights Commission Report on the State of Sex Worker Rights,” presents the findings from the Sex Workers Human Rights Commission’s public hearing on July 15, 2021, and collates data on arrests for prostitution and trafficking related charges in Oregon. It also includes findings from national and international studies on policies related to sex work and makes policy recommendations to improve public health, safety, and human rights for sex workers and communities at large.

Examples of some of the more under-reported and salient findings presented in the report include:

   * At seventy-one percent, the vast majority of all prostitution and trafficking-related arrests in Oregon from 2005-2020 were for selling sexual services. This contradicts the rhetoric used by district attorneys in multiple counties who claim to be concentrating resources on the prosecution of trafficking rather than sex work.

   * Comparing arrests by race, Black Oregonians are 15 times more likely to be arrested for promoting prostitution than white Oregonians.

   * The punitive policing of sex workers alone has cost Oregon taxpayers an average of $21 million annually over the last 16 years. Beyond that, it has misdirected anti-trafficking funds towards the prosecution of consensual sex workers and their clients.

The decriminalization of consensual adult sex work would provide immediate relief to many of the most marginalized and vulnerable residents of Oregon. The criminalization of sex work has harmed public health outcomes, endangered sex workers, and made trafficking harder to detect.

“We compiled this report so Oregon lawmakers and voters would have the information they need to ensure the safety and wellbeing of sex workers and the community at large by decriminalizing sex work,” said Biance Beebe, a sex worker finishing her master’s of public health degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and co-chair of the OSWC.

OR House Bill 3088, which proposed the repeal of the state’s prostitution-related criminal laws, was introduced to the legislature in early February of 2021 by State Representative Rob Nosse. Fifty-four percent of polled Oregonians expressed support for the bill, but the House Judiciary Committee failed to consider moving forward with legislation.

“The movement to decriminalize sex work has gained incredible momentum around the country over the past few years and I believe that Oregon could be the first state to make this critical change,” said Elle Stanger, a sex worker, podcast host, and AASECT-certified sex educator who has been working and organizing in Portland for years, and also serves as co-chair of the OSWC.

The release of the report coincides with Nicholas Kristof's announcement that he will run for Governor of Oregon. Kristof, a long-time journalist at The New York Times, has spent his career perpetuating false and damaging myths about human trafficking and sex work, often conflating the two. He has stated that he supports the “Nordic model” also known as the “Entrapment Model” or “End-Demand Model” of governing sex work. Lawmakers market this legislation as a means of curtailing prostitution and combatting trafficking, while evidence shows it does neither. Countries that have implemented the entrapment model continue to see violence and exploitation perpetrated against sex workers.

“We knew this report was critical and timely even before Kristof announced his bid for Governor. Our lives and the lives of so many others are at stake. Evidence shows that decriminalization is the only way to reduce trafficking and increase public health and safety. We hope that voters and lawmakers will pay attention to the facts, listen to sex workers, and will not be swayed by the moral panic stoked by Kristof and so many others in their war on sex,” says a statement from the OSWC.

(DSW, 2021)

(DSW, 2021)

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