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sex workers

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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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Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019

Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019

Introduced: June 4, 2019

Co-introducers: Councilmembers Robert White, Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau

FACT SHEETS | BILL TEXT | PRESS RELEASE | MYTH vs. FACT

Summary: To amend 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.


Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 - FACT SHEET.png

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Statement of Councilmember Grosso on CDC study regarding students who trade sex for survival needs

For Immediate Release: 
May 16, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember Grosso on CDC study regarding students who trade sex for survival needs

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, on a new analysis of Youth Risk Behavior Survey results that found 7.4 percent of D.C. high schoolers have exchanged sex for money, a place to stay, food or something else of value, as first reported by WAMU:

“Students turning to trading sex for survival needs is a stunning failure of the District of Columbia to aid the youth who need our support most. What is most frustrating is that we know these kids. We have the opportunity to help them every day when they step foot into our school buildings. Yet we do not meet them where they are with the services they need.

“How can we demand academic excellence from them and put them on the path to a successful future when they do not know where they will rest their head that night or where their next meal is coming from? The study also notes that these students are at a greater risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If these students do not have access to food and shelter, it's unlikely they have regular access to medical treatment.

“Compounding these disadvantages, D.C. continues to take a failed law enforcement approach to the sex trade. While I helped end the prosecution of minors involved in commercial sex in 2014, they are still subject to arrest. Adults are still fully criminalized, even though these conditions of poverty do not change when someone turns 18. Criminalizing those who engage in sex work directly undercuts their efforts to leave behind homelessness or hunger, while exposing them to greater physical and health risks. Arrest records become a barrier to other income sources or opportunities, leaving them with fewer options than before. It’s a trap.

“Despite this upsetting state of affairs, I believe we continue to make progress. We have included more money in this year’s budget to support homeless youth and provide greater access to food. I have been meeting with education leaders to address our rising HIV and STI rates among youth through comprehensive sexual education and reproductive health resources in schools.

“However, to say ‘We need to do more’ is a gross understatement. We need to provide additional social, behavioral, and physical health supports in our schools, policies I have pursued during my time as chairperson of the Committee on Education. It’s also time for a new approach to how D.C. handles sex trade, from one of criminalization to one that is focused on health and safety.”

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Grosso calls on MPD and USAO to suspend sex work-related arrests and prosecutions in the wake of website closures

For Immediate Release:
April 9, 2018
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 - mnocella@dccouncil.us

Grosso calls on MPD and USAO to suspend sex work-related arrests and prosecutions in the wake of website closures

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) on the government shutdown of websites that allowed sex workers to operate with a greater degree of safety than on the streets:

“The latest government attacks on online platforms used by sex workers are directly undermining the safety, health, and human rights of these individuals. I am deeply concerned as I read the reactions of D.C. residents who will be pushed into less safe situations on the streets where they will be subjected to more violence, have decreased ability to negotiate condom use, and encounter greater risk of arrest, making them less likely to contact authorities if they are attacked. In working with communities in D.C. over the past few years to develop better policy approaches to the issue of commercial sex, I have heard far too many personal stories of violence and harm as a result of the criminalized nature of the sex trade.

“Rather than work on the streets, sex workers have utilized a number of websites that allow them to better screen clients and negotiate safer interactions. Several of those websites closed in the past week following Congressional approval of a pair of bills, SESTA and FOSTA. This legislation is alleged to combat human trafficking, but there is little evidence that it will accomplish that noble goal. In fact, the two bills were opposed by the largest network in the country of organizations serving human trafficking survivors. Rather than help people who are being coerced into commercial sex, the effect of these website closures will be to push trafficking further underground. This also has the effect of harming innumerable people involved in the sex trade who are not being coerced but, by a complex combination of choice and circumstance, are seeking to earn money. The sweeping nature of the legislation also undermines the work of harm reduction organizations that work with these communities, thereby preventing the provision of critical services.

“Due to the great risk of violence faced by street-based sex workers, our government needs to take bold and urgent action. I call on Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham and U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu to temporarily suspend arrests and prosecutions of those involved in commercial sex unless the individual has caused violence or coercion. Instead, the Chief and U.S. Attorney, along with front-line officers and commanders, should meet with individuals trading sex with the goal of understanding the risks they face and what steps are necessary to build trust in order to prevent and respond to violence and coercion. I am happy to work with both MPD and USAO to facilitate such a meeting.

 “We must remember that there are human beings’ welfare and lives on the line. We have a responsibility as government officials to look out for those who our society and laws marginalize. We should be pursuing evidence-based solutions to stop coercion and help minors who are exploited, including by addressing the demand for housing, food, employment, rationale immigration laws, and respect for human rights.”

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

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

Introduced: October 5, 2017

Co-introducers: Councilmember Robert White

FACT SHEET & SECTION BY SECTION | BILL TEXT | RESOURCES & STATISTICSCOALITION CONTACTS | PRESS RELEASE

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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Commercial sex workers need safer spaces and more economic options

For Immediate Release:

January 11, 2017

Contact:

Matthew Nocella, 202.286.1987

Commercial sex workers need safer spaces and more economic options

Washington, DC – The following is a statement by Councilmember David Grosso on the closure of the adult services section of the website Backpage.com:

“The closure of the adult services section of the classifieds website Backpage.com worsens dangerous working conditions for those involved in commercial sex. Although it was far from perfect, the website provided a safer way for sex workers to advertise their services and screen potential customers—by removing that venue, the government is directly making involvement in commercial sex more dangerous for sex workers. Unfortunately, so many sex workers have been relying on Backpage.com because of previous government action against other online venues that also gave sex workers greater safety and greater autonomy, including Craigslist and Rentboy.

“These kinds of tactics are well-known to sex workers and those who follow these issues—law enforcement actions against sex workers on the streets and in venues pushed these communities further into the shadows. But shuttering a webpage or locking up someone for solicitation does not address the fundamental economic motivation behind most sex workers’ actions. These actions do not put a roof over someone’s head or pay for college debt or cover the utility bills.

“By attacking Backpage.com, and by not listening to sex workers, the government is further limiting the options for people who already have too few. Instead we should be increasing options—encouraging safer working conditions for sex workers, creating more avenues for people to leave commercial sex if they want to, and designing interventions to stop coercion and exploitation based in data, not moralistic campaigns. We should be dedicating resources to harm reduction services, working to eliminate stigma against sex workers, and partnering with sex workers to identify and stop situations of coercion and exploitation. Although the government targeted Backpage.com allegedly to address human trafficking in the commercial sex sector, this move actually undermines that work, while making working conditions more dangerous for everyone in the sector.

“Just last month I was honored to join community members in D.C. to commemorate the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I heard heartbreaking stories from D.C. and around the world about people whose lives were taken because they were viewed as less than human due to their involvement in sex work. To stop those stories from repeating, we need to listen to what people engaged in commercial sex have to say about their own safety and well-being.”

 

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