Reason Roundup

Science-Based Policy Means Decriminalizing Sex Work, Say Hundreds of Researchers

Plus: ACLU joins fight for donor privacy, Parler drops lawsuit against Amazon, and more...


Social scientists ask Biden administration to embrace sex worker rights. In an open letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a group of more than 250 researchers and scientists are calling for changes to the way that this country treats sex work and those engaged in it. Most prominently, the letter—which comes in conjunction with International Sex Worker Rights Day, March 3—says that sex work ought to be decriminalized.

"We decided to launch this campaign because, for too long, policies regarding sex work have been largely evidence-free, and we saw an urgent need to intervene in the debate by re-linking scientific research with public policy," said George Washington University sociology professor Ronald Weitzer in a statement. For years, Weitzer's work has tackled questions of police abuse and shone a light on the shoddy statistics and secret agendas underlying activist efforts to rebrand all sex work as human trafficking.

Weitzer is one of four organizers of the Scientists for Sex Worker Rights campaign, along with Angela Jones of Farmingdale State College and Barb Brents and Kate Hausbeck Korgan of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. All four have doctorates in sociology and have published books and/or peer-reviewed articles on various facets of sex work and sex trafficking.

Drawing on empirical research from around the world, the letter makes the case that decriminalizing prostitution must be part of the broader criminal justice reform movement in the U.S.

"The data clearly shows that criminalizing consensual adult sexual services causes severe harms, which fall mainly on the most marginalized groups—women, people of color, transgender and non-binary workers, workers' with disabilities, and economically marginalized workers," said Jones. This criminalization "does not prevent or minimize violence or abuse ostensibly identified with human trafficking."

As we've been detailing for years here at Reason, this war on sex work not only harms people choosing to engage in prostitution but leaves little room for actually helping victims of violence and sexual exploitation.

In addition to calling on cities and states to decriminalize prostitution, Biden and Harris can demonstrate their alleged "commitment to science-driven policy" by supporting a Senate bill to study the effects of FOSTA—the 2018 law criminalizing online ads for sex work—with an eye toward FOSTA's repeal, the scientists say. Preliminary evidence suggests it has been disastrous for sex worker safety (in addition to having a chilling effect on all manner of sexuality-related content online).

Biden and Harris should also "commit to protecting the First Amendment and free speech" by opposing the bipartisan-supported Stop Internet Sexual Exploitation Act (SISEA) and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's EARN IT Act, states the letter.

"We have devoted our careers to the study of sex work, sexual commerce, trafficking, feminism, and law, and we are anxious to assist our nation in developing and advocating for policies that protect the rights, privacy, and autonomy of workers in the sex trade," the researchers conclude. "Doing so will promote public health and harm reduction while decreasing violence and the powerful social stigma that sex workers face every day in the United States and around the world. This is a social justice and human rights issue, and we urge you to act."


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is joining the fight against making nonprofit organizations disclose their donors. On Tuesday, the ACLU "filed an amicus brief with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Human Rights Campaign, and PEN America urging the Supreme Court to protect the privacy rights of non-profit donors across progressive and conservative organizations," the group announced in a press release.

The case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Becerra, challenges California's blanket requirement for nonprofits to disclose their IRS Form 990 Schedule B documents, which identify their top donors. The groups argue that the rule violates the First Amendment right to associational privacy. Nonprofits' Schedule B forms contain the names and addresses of major donors, highly sensitive information. Although California purports to keep this information confidential, California has repeatedly failed to keep the information confidential. Recently, for example, California inadvertently published more than 1,700 Schedule B forms on a public website over a period of many years.


Parler is dismissing its lawsuit against Amazon:


• Texas and Mississippi are moving to quickly end all mask mandates and lockdown orders.

• Newly confirmed Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo wants to destroy Section 230:

• A new bill proposed in Massachusetts would decriminalize prostitution and expunge the records of "marijuana and prostitution-related arrests, detentions, conviction and incarceration."

• Though a lot of folks are conveniently silent about it now, "the Biden administration has continued to use a Trump-era border policy to turn back immigrants at the border, including Haitians, much to the chagrin of advocates who point out that it effectively seals the border," Buzzfeed reports.

• The Washington Post covers Democrats' delusional economic plans.

CORRECTION: This post previously contained a statement from a Scientists for Sex Worker Rights press release about the percentage of anti-trafficking money used for arresting adult sex workers. The group now says that figure was an error, and it's been removed from this post.