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Tell the D.C. Council to decriminalize sex work

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Councilmembers David Grosso and Robert White have introduced the Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2017. Sign here to show them and the entire Council your support!

From DCist: The legislation gets rid of all criminal penalties for "pandering or inducing an individual to engage in prostitution" for consenting adults. It does not create any red light districts or way of regulating sex work, and coercing people against their will to engage in sex work remains illegal.

Grosso has been preparing the legislation in concert with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition, a group of local stakeholders that includes HIPS, Whitman-Walker, and more. The bill would also create a task force to study its implementation and make further suggestions for reform.

"This is an approach that the world is being encouraged to take—to take a healthcare lens and try to resolve the issues," says Grosso, citing recommendations from groups like Amnesty International and the World Health Organization.

From POPville: D.C., like most jurisdictions, has long had criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange. Although widely used, such an approach has never worked – instead it only serves to harm those most vulnerable, including communities of color, gay and trans people, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people with criminal convictions, while fostering violence and exploitation.

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, because they are able to screen clients, to negotiate safer sex practices, and to report incidents of client and police violence. The bill retains all prohibitions on coercion or exploitation, including current law on minor involvement in commercial sex, and human trafficking laws.

“Sex workers themselves are often some of the best-positioned people to identify and help people in situations of exploitation.  By removing the criminal sanctions on them, we can improve our efforts to address coercion and trafficking,” Grosso said.

Grosso developed the legislation in close partnership with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC), a coalition of more than 16 organizations and advocates working to improve the health, safety, and well-being of sex workers by removing the criminal penalties associated with sex work and increasing sex workers’ access to basic necessities like food and housing.

Click here or read below for Councilmember Grosso's Introduction Statement:

Good morning. I am At-Large D.C. Councilmember David Grosso, and I am pleased to be here with community members and the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition.

As you may know, all my work on the Council is based in the human rights framework.

That commitment includes speaking out for the human rights of the most marginalized communities, including sex workers.

I believe that we as a society are coming to realize that excessive criminalization is causing more harm than good, from school discipline to drug laws to homelessness.

It is time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex—and move from one of criminalization to a focus on human rights, health, and safety.

That is why today I am announcing the introduction of the Reducing Criminalization to Improve Health and Safety Amendment Act of 2017.

I developed this legislation in close partnership with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition, and the bill is in line with recommendations from Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, U.N. AIDS, Human Rights Watch, and numerous other expert organizations.

The bill is quite simple really—it repeals a number of laws, or parts of laws, that criminalize adults for exchanging sex for money or other things of value.

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

Some of the laws that this bill would repeal are over a hundred years old, showing how the criminalization approach has been a total failure.

There is plenty of other evidence that this approach puts people at risk for violence, inhibits the fight against HIV, and results in the exact opposite of what the laws purported intentions, but I will leave that to my fellow speakers to describe in greater detail.

The bill does not change any of our laws regarding coercion or exploitation, which will continue to be prohibited. Nor does it change how minors involved in sex trade are considered.

Sex workers themselves are often some of the best-positioned people to identify and help people in situations of exploitation, and by removing the criminal sanctions on them, we can improve our efforts on that front.

I want to thank everyone who has helped me work on this legislation and 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.

Click here to read the DCist article.

Click here to read the POPville article.

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