Will Washington, D.C. buck national trends and actually take a stand for sex-worker rights and safety? It will if politician David Grosso gets his way. The at-large councilmember has just introduced a bill to decriminalize prostitution in the District.
"I do not think the criminalization of sex workers has worked for the District of Columbia," Grosso told DCist. "Arresting our way out of the problem is not the solution. The approach should be a harm reduction and human rights approach."
The "Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2017" would amend D.C.'s criminal code to make both the selling and the buying of sex legal. It's co-sponsored by At-large Councilmember Robert White.
Unlike moves by Canada and many Western European countries, the D.C. plan would not attempt to regulate sex work by setting up red-light districts, providing for brothel permits, or similar schemes. In countries where prostitution is highly regulated (including parts of Nevada), those engaging in sex work outside these parameters are still sought out and punished by police, thereby recreating all the worst harms of criminalization. This is especially true in countries that have adopted the "Nordic model" of sex-work regulation, wherein people who pay for sex are still criminalized but those offering sexual services are not.
Grosso's bill would do several specific things:
- Repeal the 1935 bill requiring "for the suppression of prostitution in the District of Columbia," thereby removing criminal penalties for engaging in or soliciting prostitution.
- Abolish the city's Anti-Prostitution Vehicle Impoundment Proceeds program and fund
- Repeal prohibitions on procuring someone for prostitution, operating a house of prostitution, or operating a "place used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation, or prostitution"
It would also repeal D.C.'s prohibition on "pandering" (i.e., placing, causing, inducing, enticing, procuring, or compelling someone somewhere "with the intent that such individual shall engage in prostitution"), because any elements of "pandering" involving force or juveniles are covered by the city's law against compelling prostitution, and would amend the compelling prostitution statute to include bans on detaining or compelling someone "to marry the abductor or to marry any other person."
The legislation would create a temporary task force "to study and make recommendations regarding the removal of criminal penalties and providing supports for individuals engaging in commercial sex" and issue a report on what it finds. The task force would include members of D.C. government, public health professionals, sex workers ("and people profiled as sex workers"), and nonprofits that provide services to people in the commercial sex industry.
Grosso pointed out in DCist that his approach is supported by health and human-rights groups like Amnesty International and the World Health Organization, and said he hopes his colleagues keep an open mind. "It's about treating people with dignity, respect, and love, over whatever they were taught in church or whatever hangups they have about sex."