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

Photo by PoPville flickr user KJinDC

From Councilmember Grosso’s office:

“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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