Our Liberation Requires Decriminalization — Debunking Sex Work Myths

The District, like most cities and states, has long had criminal penalties for consensual sexual exchange. Although widely used, such an approach has never worked – instead it only serves to harm those most vulnerable while fostering violence and exploitation. It is time for DC to take a different approach.

Trans Women engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women and 37% of DC's trans sex workers are homeless. Street-based sex workers who are engaged in survival sex work often bear the brunt of criminalization. 


On De-Mystifying the Decriminalization of Sex Work — 

Myth: Decriminalizing sex work would lead to an increase in human trafficking.
Fact: Decriminalizing consensual sex work will not change trafficking laws, and in fact, decriminalization will make it easier to locate and provide resources to people who are trafficked. Without the threat of arrest, sex workers will be able to be allies in ending trafficking, and more trafficking victims will likely come forward without facing as much stigma.

Myth: Won’t decriminalization increase public safety hazards like used condoms on the street?
Fact: Street-based sex workers don't want to engage in sex work outside either, but this problem isn't about sex work as much as it's about homelessness. Sex workers who have a safe place to work have more options for disposing of condoms and other trash. Sex workers experiencing homelessness, however, are often forced to engage in street-based sex work, which puts them at increased risk of violence.

Myth: Decriminalizing sex work will lead to more people joining the sex trade.
Fact: Many people engage in sex work because they have no or few alternatives. Trans people of color, for example, experience high rates of employment discrimination and find themselves with no option except to engage in criminalized work. With a criminal record, sex workers are more likely to experience further employment discrimination and find themselves trapped in this form of work.

Decriminalizing the work they do to survive will help decrease the stigma associated with this work and make it easier for sex workers to access alternative opportunities.

Myth: Aren’t all sex workers are forced into the sex trade?
Fact: People choose sex work for a wide range of reasons -- flexible schedules, higher pay than many other entry-level jobs, or just because they enjoy it. There are also many people who engage in sex work because it's the only option available to them while experiencing homelessness. We want to make sure people have options and resources, and that's why this bill will both decriminalize sex work and create a task force to ensure that there are next steps to ensure the health and safety of people working in the sex trade.

Myth: Decriminalizing sex work isn’t an LGBT issue.
Fact: In a city where the unemployment rate for trans residents is nearly 50%, trans folks are disproportionately forced into underground economies to make ends meet. Supporting trans communities and queer communities means ending the punitive criminalization of sex work that makes sex workers unsafe, and forces them into the criminal justice system simply for making a living.

Decriminalizing sex work is necessary for trans and queer liberation.
Unfair laws that criminalize sex work strip people of other employment options upon conviction, bar people from housing, increase the risk of infectious disease, and lead to unsafe jail conditions for trans women in the sex trade. 

In order to make our city safer for everyone - and marginalized communities in general, join us in urging Councilmember Allen to hold a hearing on the Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Safety and Health Amendment Act. SEX WORK IS WORK!