Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Health & Safety Amendment Act of 2017

Introduced: October 5, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmember Robert White


Summary: To repeal an Act for the suppression of prostitution in the District of Columbia; to amend an Act in relation to pandering, to define and prohibit the same and to provide for the Punishment thereof to remove certain criminal penalties for engaging in sex work in order to promote public health and safety; to repeal Section 1 of an Act to enjoin and abate houses of lewdness, assignation, and prostitution, to declare the same to be nuisances, to enjoin the person or persons who conduct or maintain the same and the owner or agent of any building used for such purpose, and to assess a tax against the person maintaining said nuisance and against the building and owner thereof; to repeal An Act to confer concurrent jurisdiction on the police court of the District of Columbia in certain cases; and to create a task force to assess the impact of this legislation and recommend further reforms to improve community safety and health by removing criminal penalties for engaging in commercial sex.

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.

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