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It was just after 11 a. Santa Ana police detained him for questioning. The information that we received from him, our vice unit did an undercover sting program," said Corporal Michael Gonzalez with the Santa Ana Police Department. Inside the room, police said they found a year-old woman having sex with a year-old man.
Sex workers have been fighting for decriminalization for generations. Now politicians are starting to listen. Spellman has been a sex worker in Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. Then there is the financial toll of criminalization. Repeated arrests and fines for doing sex work have driven Spellman further into poverty. Advocates say getting rid of those penalties is the only way to keep sex workers safe from police harassment and the damaging effects of arrests and fines — and to guarantee them full human rights as workers in America.
But in the United States, where buying and selling sex is illegal everywhere except for a few counties in Nevada, decriminalization has been a tougher sell.
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Recently, legislation to decriminalize sex work has been introduced in both DC and New York state, and several presidential candidatesincluding Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have said they support some degree of decriminalization. The decriminalization effort has a lot of work ahead of it — most states have yet to make any moves on the issue. But sex workers are closer than perhaps ever before to winning the right to do their jobs without fear of arrest.
Sex workers face stigma and prosecution in the US and around the world. In a survey of street-based sex workers in New York City, 80 percent said they had been threatened with or experienced violence, and many said the police were no help.
In fact, 27 percent of respondents in the survey said they had experienced violence from police officers. These problems are longstanding, and people who sell sex have been advocating for their rights in America for generations. But there is no federal law banning sex work, and laws vary from state to state and even city to city, says Mogulescu, who also directs a clinic focused on representing people charged with sex work-related offenses. In some states, such as Arizona and Floridarepeated arrests for doing sex work can result in a felony conviction and prison time.
Untilsome people arrested for doing sex work in Louisiana were forced to register as sex offenders. In other states, like New York, sex work-related offenses are misdemeanors, punishable with fines and other penalties. They also point to one county in Virginia where a jail was forced to bring in rollout beds to accommodate a crackdown on prostitution.
The only state where sex work is legal in some counties is Nevadabut the counties must have fewer thanresidents — this excludes Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. Even in the legal counties, the sector is highly regulated — sex workers can only work in d brothels and must be tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections. Mistress Matisse, a dominatrix and writer, described working in a Nevada brothel as a restrictive experience. Meanwhile, some draw a contrast between laws against sex work and those around pornography, which often requires people to have sex for money on camera.
Though authorities in the past have tried to charge pornography producers under anti-prostitution laws, a California Supreme Court case found that pornography did not violate those laws. Is that not the same thing?
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Avoiding police might mean sex workers need to go to more remote locations, which can be more dangerous. Working in the same space can help sex workers stay safe, but some anti-prostitution laws make that illegal, or even expose workers who share space to more severe charges like promoting or profiting from prostitution, Mogulescu said.
Criminalization of sex work also puts sex workers at risk of police violence, according to Jessica Raven, a steering committee member with the New York advocacy coalition DecrimNY. People of color are ificantly more likely to be arrested for sex work-related offenses than white people.
According to Amnesty Internationalnearly 40 percent of adults and 60 percent of youth arrested for prostitution in the US in were black, even though black Americans only make up about 12 percent of the US population. Being convicted of sex work—related offenses also gives sex workers a criminal record, which can make it hard to find housing or non—sex work employment.
This falls especially hard on trans women of color, who already face employment discrimination. Infor instance, New Zealand decriminalized prostitution, removing penalties for buying and selling sex. A study found that after decriminalization, sex workers felt more comfortable reporting abuse to police and more able to insist on safer sex practices and refuse unwanted clients.
Sweden took such an approach inand several other countries, including Norway, have adopted the model since then. Because it keeps the sex trade underground, criminalizing the buying of sex exposes workers to many of the same harms as criminalizing the sale, Mogulescu says. And Nina Luo, a steering committee member at DecrimNY, says that Nordic-model countries have enacted a of policies that are harmful to sex workers, like campaigns to evict them from their homes.
Increasingly, global health and justice groups are calling for full decriminalization of sex work. Inthe World Health Organization recommended that countries work toward decriminalization.
Amnesty International made a similar recommendation in The United States, however, saw little movement toward decriminalization for years. However, things are beginning to change.
A bill to decriminalize prostitution in DC was introduced in Earlier this year, Democrats in the New York state legislature also introduced billsbacked by DecrimNY, to decriminalize prostitution and repeal the state loitering law. The legislation also got ificant media attention, with coverage in the New York Timesthe New Republicand elsewhere. Some feminist and anti-trafficking organizations have criticized the New York bill. When NOW and other groups held a protest against the New York bill earlier this year, sex workers staged a counterprotest.
Meanwhile, political candidates are starting to run on platforms that include decriminalization. New York state Sen. Julia Salazar made the issue part of her winning primary campaign to unseat incumbent state Sen. And five Democratic presidential candidates — Sens.
Booker and Harris, Reps. Seth Moulton and Tulsi Gabbard, and former Sen. Mike Gravel — have said they support at least partial decriminalization, according to BuzzFeed News. Several othersincluding Sens.
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Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have said they are open to such a policy. The issue has entered the political mainstream in a few short years thanks to a confluence of factors, advocates say. Spellman wants to see the same. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower through understanding. Financial contributions from our readers are a critical part of supporting our resource-intensive work and help us keep our journalism free for all. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today to help us keep our work free for all.
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Sidewalk chalk in support of decriminalizing sex work in New York City. Courtesy of Jessica Raven. Explainers Covid vaccines for young kids are a big step toward a new normal. Recode Service workers are getting paid more than ever.
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