New ACLU Report Calls for Full Decriminalization of Sex Work

LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released yesterday a comprehensive review of over 80 studies about sex work entitled “Is Sex Work Decriminalization the Answer? What the Research Tells Us.”

The research reviewed by the ACLU shows that full decriminalization has the greatest benefits for public health and safety.

According to a statement by the ACLU, “in addition to finding that decriminalization will improve public health and safety while increasing economic stability for sex workers, the studies reviewed do not indicate a clear link between criminalizing sex work and stopping human trafficking.”

The leading individual rights organization analyzed studies on the three main models of decriminalization:

  • Full decriminalization, which removes all laws and criminal penalties specific to sex work
  • “End-demand” or “Nordic” models that criminalize buying but not selling sex work
  • Legalization models that require sex workers to register or impose other regulations

Time to Listen to Sex Workers

ACLU’s Trans Justice Campaign Manager LaLa Zannell explained that “right now, millions of people are asking what we can do to reduce abuse by law enforcement, racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and our overall jail and prison populations.”

“One policy that can achieve all of these goals — particularly for Black trans women and immigrants — is to recognize that sex work is work and treat it like any other industry,” said Zannell. “Sex workers have been saying they face significant violence from police and clients for decades and it is time that we all listen to these voices when determining how to improve safety for sex workers.”

ACLU also reports that their offices around the country “have been engaging with local sex worker-led groups to support calls to district attorneys to decline to prosecute sex work related offenses and to repeal state legislation criminalizing sex work.”

The ACLU has also opposed laws at the federal level that prevent sex workers from screening clients online — including the infamous, bipartisan SESTA/FOSTA legislation famously championed  by Kamala Harris and signed into law by Donald Trump — which the research reviewed by the ACLU suggests has increased violence and harassment faced by sex workers.

Recommendations

These are the ACLU’s main recommendations:

  • Lawmakers should fully decriminalize consensual sex work by eliminating all criminal penalties for sellers and buyers
  • Also remove all criminal penalties for youth who participate in sex work, but not for adults who exploit youth
  • Decriminalization should include a retroactive component, permitting expungement of criminal records
  • Police officers should eliminate their unwanted presence that targets sex workers and profiles transgender people
  • Reform-minded prosecutors should decline to pursue charges related to consensual sex work. This includes both street-based sex work and laws like SESTA/FOSTA that prevent sex workers from screening clients and discussing safety online
  • Policy makers should listen to what sex workers say is necessary to improve their health and well being which includes divesting from police and investing in community-based health care and housing initiatives

For more information about the ACLU’s campaign to decriminalize sex work, click here.

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