- All forms of sex work should be unilaterally decriminalized. Depriving an individual of sovereignty over their own body and their right to use it as they see appropriate and necessary is a violation of their civil liberties and is therefore unconstitutional and illegal.
- Sex work is real work. It is a valid profession that people from a wide range of backgrounds choose for themselves. People enter the sex industry because of a variety of factors that fall broadly under choice, circumstance, and coercion. Sex workers, like other workers, are capable of navigating these factors for themselves and seeking support when they decide they need it. Sex workers have the ability to consent to their work just like any other service rendered in exchange for money.
- All sex workers deserve safe working conditions. Safe working conditions include the ability to work free from violence and stigma, to control the conditions and terms of one’s work, to be paid fairly, to organize around work and build peer support networks, and to access social and health services. Ensuring safe working conditions requires the support and collaboration of federal, state, and local government, non-governmental organizations, social service providers, and activist groups. We believe that decriminalization is the first step to ensuring safe working conditions for sex workers because:
- First, sex workers should have the right to work together, through unions or other types of collectives, to ensure that all sex workers are safe in the practice of their work.
- Second, while we oppose expanding the role of the police in any form, we believe that sex workers, like all other workers, deserve the same recourse to the legal system that all other workers have when their rights are violated and deserve to be treated with dignity by law enforcement officers, if they choose to engage with them. The decriminalization of sex work is the first step to ensuring full legal recourse for the following reasons:
- Decriminalization will allow sex workers to operate without the constant fear of police surveillance, intimidation, and, all too often, abuse.
- There is consensus within the global health community that decriminalization is one of the single most important factors in fighting the spread of HIV, thus ensuring healthy working conditions for sex workers.
- It will allow clients of sex workers to report suspicious circumstances that may indicate trafficking (a repeatedly documented effect of decriminalization).
- It will allow sex workers to report and press charges in cases of rape or other forms of violence, without fear of their own recrimination.
- Young people involved in sex work need support: They should not be criminalized. They often resort to sex work for the same reasons as adults, especially marginalized youth such as those who have been made homeless due to their sexual orientation. In Boston, there is a population of youth outdoor survival sex workers who should be provided with opportunities to seek work, housing, and health care. Often the barriers in obtaining these are greater than for adults, and there are fewer social services for this population in general. Additionally, cold climates like Boston often cause young people to resort to sex work for refuge from hypothermia in winter. This situation must be rectified via an enlarged social safety net, not by further marginalizing and criminalizing young people who are already vulnerable.
The fight to decriminalize sex work is a feminist movement. Criminalization is a breach of feminist ideals involving every person’s inalienable right to make decisions about their own body. The state does not have the authority to deprive any person of sovereignty over their own body. Criminalization is not protection, it is oppression.
Even for those who fight for abolition of the sex industry as a strategy to fight women’s subjugation as a class, decriminalization is a necessary step. A people cannot be liberated when they are targeted by police, being surveilled by the courts, and forced into state-sponsored rehabilitation. The criminalization of the sex industry as well as “criminalization-lite” strategies such as the Nordic Model give carceral and psychiatric instiutions power over women, power that is used to further exploitation and violence.
In line with feminist and reproductive justice ideals, we argue that every person has the right to parent with dignity. It is a pernicious falsehood that sex workers are not competent to be parents merely because of the work they engage in. Convicted sex workers often have their children removed solely because of this factor, which is legally and ethically unacceptable.
Finally, like many low-income workers, some choose sex work due to employment options that are limited workplace discrimination by gender identity, sexual orientation, and race (including against trans and/or gender non-conforming people), pay inequity, and exploitative working conditions. These structures of inequality need to be rectified if we are to have a fair civil society and ensure that all workers have control and choice over their work. Criminalization does nothing to address these conditions–in fact deepens exploitation and violence against the most marginalized sex workers.
- Individuals or organizations who force others into sex work against their will should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Existing anti-trafficking efforts largely fail to prosecute those who force others into sex work against their will, and need to be more specifically targeted. The conviction rate of traffickers in Massachusetts and elsewhere is very low. Current law conflates consensual sex workers, with coerced and trafficked people. It also fails to address the large population of trafficked peoples who are not sex-trafficked but labor-trafficked (such as trafficked domestic workers, migrant workers, and agricultural workers). In some cases, anti–trafficking policies are even used to identify and deport undocumented immigrants. This legal definition confuses the priorities of law enforcement and prevents real traffickers from being found and brought to justice. Further, law enforcement fails to acknowledge that trafficking almost always takes place across international borders, requiring international efforts rather than isolated local busts. Policy makers and local law enforcement agencies should create evidence-based policy supported by the affected population, rather than focusing on financial incentives, political capital, personal ideology, and a savior mentality that ultimately fails to help those most in need of their help: internationally trafficked people, especially children.
- Additionally, domestic violence is a common force behind coerced sex work. Victims of this kind of coercion must not be left out of the discussion and should be granted every protection given to trafficked individuals And something that acknowledges that anti trafficking efforts only look for and intervene in a small subset of trafficked women. The National Human Trafficking hotline, funded by US dept. Of Health and Human Services, defines it thus: “Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.”
National Human Trafficking Resource Center
Call: 1 (888) 373-7888
SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages
- Law enforcement officers, health workers, and other social service providers should be educated about sex workers and how to ethically and compassionately treat both voluntary and coerced sex workers, including how to handle traumatized individuals.
- Law enforcement officers who abuse sex workers or take advantage of their potential vulnerability should be swiftly brought to justice. This is particularly relevant to populations who are already vulnerable to abuse by law enforcement against all oppressed groups.
PUBLIC POLICY AND DETERRENTS.
We denounce policies such as demand-side prohibition (sometimes called the “Swedish” or “Nordic” model) that criminalize the clients of sex workers but not sex workers themselves as damaging to ALL sex workers.
- Financial incentives to individual police stations for arresting sex workers are unethical. Misleadingly, some law-enforcement agencies accept private funds earmarked for anti-trafficking efforts; however, these funds focus on raids and arrests without adequately supporting services for trafficking survivors. We do not believe this to be an effective way to address coerced sex work.
- The government and community should have in place support systems for BOTH sex workers who want to stay in sex work AND those who wish to exit the industry. However, developing such programs should be a sex-worker-driven project led by currently working sex workers, undertaken with input from local sex worker advocacy organizations, that focuses on the psychological and economic needs of sex workers themselves, rather than being determined by government institutions or others who cannot understand the experience of being a sex worker.
- Re-education programs for convicted sex workers violate sex workers’ human rights by depriving them of their self-determination and inserting them into the legal system, often with a great lack of clarity about when they will be allowed to exit it and what records will be maintained and held by the government. Re-education programs (also called “diversion” programs) are often recommended as an alternative to a criminal conviction–however, these programs deny a basic facet of sex workers’ humanity by implying that they are incompetent to weigh risks and benefits and make decisions for themselves. Legal policies should be put in place that prevent the press from publishing the identities of sex workers to the public against their will UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
We are committed to addressing the way these issues affect all sex workers, across the spectrum of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, political affiliation, and all other forms of diversity, and especially the most marginalized among us. We stand in solidarity with movements that address the diverse forms of oppression that affect our community.