Metro Weekly

Activists mark International Sex Workers Day by reiterating call for decriminalization in DC

Advocates say sex workers face significant hurdles in their lives due to record of arrests

Sex workers and advocates pose for a photo after lobbying D.C. councilmembers on behalf of a decriminalization bill – Photo: Sex Worker Advocates Coalition.

On June 2, to commemorate International Sex Workers Day, organizers from across the District and their global allies reiterated their call for the decriminalization of sex work.

The D.C. chapter of BYP100, in coalition with the DecrimNow campaign, a project of the Sex Workers Advocates Coalition, re-emphasized the importance of decriminalizing sex work in the District, and across the world.

The coalition’s call for action coincided with demonstrations in cities throughout the nation to protest police brutality, particularly the role it played in the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed after a police officer kneeled on his neck. 

Many sex workers, especially those who are transgender, say they are familiar with police brutality, having been mistreated, misgendered, subjected to physical violence, or blackmailed for sexual favors in order to avoid arrest.

“Criminalizing sex workers is especially unfair for poor, Black and Brown, and queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming communities, who are already marginalized in so many other ways,” the coalition said in a statement. “Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council should not waste taxpayer money on policing these communities, causing more harm to those who deserve care and support. There is a moral imperative to protect D.C’s most vulnerable residents.

“In the midst of uprisings across the nation, we take this day to mourn the lives we’ve lost and continue to fight for those still with us,” the statement continued. “As we continue to push for decriminalization of sex work and abolishing police and prisons, we mourn Black and trans people who have been murdered by cops this spring.”

“From Ashanti Carmon to Tony McDade and George Floyd, we won’t be safe in the hands of killer police, DECRIM NOW,” Princess Louboutin, an organizer with No Justice No Pride, which is part of the DecrimNow campaign, said in a statement. “No Justice, No Peace, No Justice, No Pride!”

Begun in Lyon, France, in 1975, after more than 100 sex workers took over and occupied a church for eight days to protest stigma around sex work, as well as the fines, harassment, and arrests at the hands of police for soliciting, June 2 has become a day of action where sex workers seek to advocate for themselves, often asking for changes to criminal laws, or better access to financial and health resources.

For the past few years, the DecrimNow campaign, in coalition with BYP100, has sought to pressure D.C. Councilmembers to decriminalize sex work, arguing that such a move would prevent sex workers — the bulk of whom are black women — from amassing a criminal record that would otherwise hamper their ability to seek out steady employment, stable housing, or access various support resources.

Unfortunately, their efforts have been stymied by a vocal coalition of women’s groups — who argue that decriminalization will only worsen human trafficking — and councilmembers who are reticent to take a bold stance that might anger some more conservative or religious constituents.

Last year, the Council held hearings on a bill sponsored by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At-Large) — who is stepping down in January at the end of his second term — but never took the measure up for a vote, either in committee or before the full Council. Additionally, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has indicated she would veto the bill if it came across her desk.

Related: LGBTQ advocates deliver letter to councilmembers calling for decriminalization of sex work

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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