The reasons to decriminalize consensual adult sex work are numerous and compelling. They are based in evidence, in reason, and in the principles that those of us who value liberty, freedom, bodily autonomy, privacy, and choice hold dear. Proponents of the criminalization of consensual adult sex work perpetuate the harms that laws based in ideology, racism, and misogyny have caused sex workers. These ideologists stoke moral panic with their conflation of consensual adult sex work and human trafficking. They appear to be waging a war on sex in general!
Setting aside the principles that make criminalizing consensual adult sex work preposterous and irreconcilable in a society that values freedom and dignity, we know that prohibition, whether it be of drugs, alcohol, or sex invites brutality to thrive. Sex work is not inherently dangerous or exploitative. It is the criminalization of prostitution that forces sex work “underground” and makes sex workers vulnerable to violence. Criminalization denies sex workers the ability to access justice, adequate medical care, and traps them in a vicious cycle of arrest and incarceration.
Sex work exists on a spectrum of choice, circumstance, and exploitation. Nobody wants to stop human trafficking and exploitation more than sex workers and evidence shows that decriminalization is how we most effectively combat this egregious human rights abuse. Individuals engaged in sex work by choice or because it is the best option to earn a living in their current circumstances, and their clients, should be afforded the ability to engage in a consensual transaction in private without fear of arrest or government interference.
It is naive to think the surveillance, censorship, discrimination, danger, and denial of bodily autonomy sex workers face under US laws does not extend to all of us. Broad government overreach, framed as efforts to combat trafficking, has led to laws such as 2018’s SESTA/FOSTA which undercut the most crucial statute protecting freedom of speech on the internet. It does nothing to help victims of trafficking, as concluded by a recent government study, and actually endangers dangers the safety, health, and human rights of consensual sex workers and trafficking victims. Legislators continue to introduce similar bills, such as the EARN It Act, again under the guise of combating trafficking, which gained a fair amount of traction in 2022. If passed, it could effectively end freedom of expression, encrypted and open communication on the internet as we know it.
Sex workers are routinely censored on social media platforms for content that does not violate any terms and face increasing discrimination by banks and payment processors. For years, feminists have rallied around bodily autonomy as it relates to abortion and other choices, while sex workers are criminalized for making a choice about their body that harms no one. As “canaries in the coal mine,” sex workers have long experienced the denial of basic rights and freedoms most Americans hold dear. Decriminalizing consensual adult sex work across the US would not only increase public health and safety, it would send the strong statement that the government does not belong in all aspects of our lives and that laws should be grounded in evidence, and not morality, or a legislators’ desire to curry favor.
Of the four main models implemented around the world to govern sex work, decriminalization is the only one that improves public health and safety and decreases trafficking and exploitation. There is ample evidence to prove this. Another model, rooted in morality and ideology, the Entrapment or Equality Model is gaining traction in the US. Proponents of it believe that no one is engaged in the sex trade by choice, stripping bodily autonomy from the same individuals they purport to want to “save.” Their goal is to end of the commercial sex industry, which we know isn’t possible, and it causes great harm in its futile attempt to do so. Where it has been implemented, including Sweden, Norway (it is also referred to as the Nordic model), and Ireland, evidence shows that sex workers face violence, arrest, and government surveillance, and trafficking and exploitation proliferate.
I hope you’ll stop by booth 707 to chat and join us on Thursday July 14 at 1:10pm for “To Brothel or Not to Brothel: Why the Freedom of Sex Workers Impacts Us All.”
We’ll tell you what we’ve seen and heard, why we’re concerned and what we can do to ensure our rights to free speech, bodily autonomy, and choice are not eroded further. Also, we know how to fight human trafficking and want to see everyone have the opportunity to live freely, safely, and with dignity.
Some additional and condensed information on the four types of laws governing sex work:
Decriminalization supports the health, safety, and rights of all. This ideal policy would remove penalties for independent contractors (solo practitioners who are akin to housekeepers, caregivers for elderly or disabled people, or home-based hair stylists) as well as businesses (which have owners, waged employees, and discrete locations). Unequivocal evidence from around the world demonstrates that the decriminalization of sex work increases public health and safety and decreases exploitation and trafficking.
Criminalization promotes exploitation. Except for the regulated brothels in rural parts of Nevada, prostitution and related acts are criminalized everywhere in the US. This widespread criminalization keeps the sex industry underground; removes the ability of workers to exert their rights or redress wrongs/violence committed against them; and places people in a cycle of arrest and incarceration.
A law that allows only brothels (licensed businesses at specific locations only) is called the “legalization” model. This policy, which describes Nevada’s law, represents a partially good law that should nevertheless be avoided, because prostitution in the privacy of hotel rooms or bedrooms should not be criminalized.
- THE ENTRAPMENT MODEL:
The Entrapment Model is harmful. The Entrapment Model, also known as the End Demand Model, Nordic Model, Swedish Model, and Equality Model, imposes criminal penalties on clients but not sex workers. This isn’t a compromise but rather a thoroughly bad policy, as it’s akin to allowing a store to sell alcohol but criminalizing the customers. The result is that customers continue paying for sex in the criminal arena, jeopardizing the liberty of both parties and the safety of the community.
Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) works to improve policies related to all forms of sex work and to end the prohibition of consensual adult prostitution in the United States. Evidence shows that decriminalizing sex work will help end human trafficking, improve public health, and promote community safety.
Ariela Moscowitz is Director of Communications at Decriminalize Sex Work.