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We Can Stop Violence Against Sex Workers by Decriminalizing Sex Work

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December 17, 2016
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Hayley Gorenberg

Reckon with the truth, and it will lead us to justice.

On December 17, the annual Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, let’s admit that making sex workers criminals fills jails with nonviolent people, lines government coffers with the proceeds of prostitution-related sex acts, penalizes those who are down on their luck or may have few other choices for income and means that we — at best — stand idly by while our laws spark violence.

As we wrote in our federal court brief earlier this year, laws against consenting adults selling sex drive this eternal exchange into dangerous locations. They keep sex workers from speaking honestly with their doctors and getting medical help to stay healthy (including medications to prevent or treat HIV). Their way of putting food on the table and a roof overhead outlawed, sex workers are loathe to go to the police if they are robbed or assaulted — so our laws make them targets for violence and victimization like no other workers. And sex workers have routinely reported sexual coercion and assault by police.

Finally, all of these reduced options triggered by criminalizing sex work open workers up to the force, fraud and coercion that are the hallmarks of human trafficking. The catastrophic irony on that front is that so many people who profess horror at trafficking (which is shared by those of us here at Lambda Legal) use that concern to justify keeping sex work a crime — virtually guaranteeing the violence they say they abhor.

It’s time to face facts.

In this case, on this day, facing facts means that if we keep sex work a crime, we acquiesce to blood on our hands. If we want to end violence against sex workers, we’ll stop putting them at risk with misguided laws.