D.C. Council member David Grosso is set to introduce the “Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Safety and Health Act of 2017” which would repeal all current D.C. laws that call for criminal penalties for commercial sex work engaged in by consenting adults. It would cover both sex workers and their customers.
Grosso told the Washington Blade he began to seriously consider decriminalization legislation after several prominent human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, announced support for decriminalization of sex work as a means of protecting the human rights of sex workers. He said he developed the bill after working with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition.
“I feel like we’ve tried for a long time to solve the issues that come with the prohibition of sex work in the District of Columbia,” Grosso said. “We have lots of issues with our streets, with neighborhoods, with people being unhappy because of cars being parked in certain places and things like that,” he said.
“So what I’m saying is our current policy of criminalization of sex work hasn’t worked for the District of Columbia,” he continued. “It hasn’t worked for sex worker rights. It hasn’t worked for human rights. And it hasn’t worked for our neighborhoods.”
Grosso said removing criminal sanctions against sex workers would also improve public health and safety for them and put the city and police in a better position of addressing serious crimes of violence, including human trafficking.
He said his legislation “absolutely” would leave in place all laws that make it illegal to engage in human trafficking or to force or coerce someone to engage in sex work against their will.
“All we’re doing is removing the criminal penalties for consensual sex work between adults,” he said. “There are still even penalties for sex in public. You wouldn’t be able to do that.”
At least three prominent local LGBT organizations have expressed support for the bill. Ruby Corado, executive director of the D.C. LGBT community services center Casa Ruby; Guillaume Bagal, president of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; and Josh Eisenstat, co-chair of the D.C. Anti-Violence Project, a program of the D.C. Center for the LGBT community have all announced public support for Grasso’s proposal.
“The criminalization of sex work disproportionately affects the LGBTQ community, specifically LGBTQ people of color,” the Anti-Violence Project told the Washington Blade in a statement.
“When sex work is criminalized, sex workers experience high rates of violence, both from customers and from law enforcement. Furthermore sex workers who experience violence are less likely to report these instances of violence and are not able to receive victim services due to D.C.’s current laws,” the statement says.
“GLAA has opposed criminalization of sex work for many years now, with the understanding that these laws disproportionately impact groups that are already facing discrimination, especially people of color, gay and trans people, immigrants, and people with criminal convictions,” Bagal said.
“We are definitely in support of legislation that is addressing the incarceration of young people who are in a survival mode,” said Corado, who noted Casa Ruby supports the Grosso bill.
It couldn’t immediately be determined whether D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would support Grosso’s bill, however, at a news conference last year organized by groups advocating against human trafficking in the District, Bowser told the Blade she was inclined not to support decriminalization of sex work.