California Sex Workers Deserve Their Day In Court

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October 19, 2017

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in the case of Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLERP) v. Gascón, a case challenging California laws that criminalize sex work.

Lambda Legal filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of ESPLERP on behalf of entities with expertise and experience working with people living with HIV, laying out how these laws undermine public health.

“Criminalizing sex work does not reduce the transmission of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections: in fact, just the opposite is true,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal.

“The evidence is clear that laws making it illegal for consenting adults to engage in private sexual activity in exchange for money hurt public health because they lead to fear of law enforcement and criminal prosecution, deter use of condoms—they are often used as evidence of intent to commit this crime—and create hurdles to health care for sex workers and their clients. The lower court ruling was ill-informed and misguided, and the Ninth Circuit should direct the lower court to reinstate the case and to consider the effects of these laws on public health.”

In March 2015, ESPLERP, representing California sex workers, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the section of the state penal code that criminalizes prostitution and solicitation. The federal trial court dismissed the lawsuit at an initial stage, failing to examine the evidence of how these laws undermine public health goals.

Lambda Legal filed a brief explaining how the statute in question impedes efforts to reduce transmission of HIV and other STIs.

“Lambda Legal’s landmark Supreme Court victory in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that struck down laws that criminalized sex between same-sex partners, underscored that our right to liberty protects our decisions about adult, consensual sexual intimacy,” said Kara Ingelhart, Lambda Legal Law Fellow.

“It is merely logical that Lawrence extend to the adult, consensual sexual intimacy that occurs between sex workers and their clients; the fact that money is exchanged shouldn’t matter.”

The brief was filed on behalf of: AIDS United, APLA Health, The Center for HIV Law and Policy, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Positively Trans, Positive Women’s Network-USA, San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Brad Sears (Executive Director of The Williams Institute), Sero Project, and the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center.

Lambda Legal attorneys Scott Schoettes, Kara Ingelhart, Hayley Gorenberg and Richard Saenz represent Lambda Legal and the partners on the brief.