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D.C. Could Become Only U.S. City to Decriminalize Prostitution

A new bill would remove all criminal penalties in the District for buying or selling sex.

Alvaro Fuente/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomAlvaro Fuente/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/NewscomWill 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."

Photo Credit: Alvaro Fuente/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom

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  • Domestic Dissident||

    Wonderful new for Liz, who's moonlighting will finally be legal!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Good for them. Though whatever the actual results of this decriminalization I fear the stats will be torn apart to show abuses, regardless of whether they are better than before.

    One thing in particular I predict is an uptick in people reporting sexual assault charges, as prostitutes who have violence initiated against them will now be able to actually go to the police. This uptick in official reports will be then used as a way to say that women are being brutalized due to the legalization.

  • ||

    Get back to me when this bill actually moves out of committee.

  • Rich||

    "The RCPPSHA Act" won't. It needs a cutesy-acronym name like "The Washington Hope for Oppressed Rights and Equality Act" to have any chance at all.

  • DajjaI||

    At the risk of being banned again by Reason - I see my plans to turn DC into a slave sex colony are coming together nicely.... BWAHAHAAHAHAAHAHA

  • timbo||

    hilarious. How many congressman are making reservations?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    This is just an accommodation law for congressmen.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Arresting our way out of the problem is not the solution.

    Uh, it's working just fine for every other problem.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Do you guys know people used to manufacture, sell, and consume beverages containing alcohol?

  • Episteme||

    Prohibition did its job of giving us gangster movies.

  • Episteme||

    Instead of arresting our way out of the problem, perhaps it's time to try exiling folks to desert islands?

  • Elias Fakaname||

    I favor sending all the progressives to Antarctica. One way.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Do not hold to hope, it has forsaken these lands.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    Would let step on my testicles.

  • Jordan||

    Just go run afoul of the police in South Africa, and you can get that for free.

  • Chipper Morning, Mean Girl||

    I'm sorry that happened to you. *hugs*

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    I think ENB set a trap... that's a man, baby.

  • ||

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought it was a dude.

  • ||

    The dark-skinned out-of-focus face/head looks like a black woman in one lighting scheme and a bearded white-ish man in another. There was a moment of optical trickery for me as well.

    Even then, the black woman gestalt has some fairly short hair.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    Ahh, you're right.

    RETRACTED

  • BYODB||

    No, this sounds about right since D.C. is already full of elected whores.

  • Lily Bulero||

    I see you beat me to it.

  • Phos||

    I assume most whores need to fairly consistently perform actions requested and desired by their constituents to remain employed.

    I guess you need to be unionized in one form or another to suck at your job [in a bad way] and keep your job.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    Gross 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."

    My God.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yeah, that part outs me off. I can't get off without focusing on my hang ups.

  • Chipper Morning, Mean Girl||

    I hope you always rig a safety trip line.

  • Lily Bulero||

    Yeah, respect and love versus church and hangups over sex - great way to reach out to religious voters.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    As someone who is not particularly religious (i.e. I'm Catholic), I'm offended by him acting like it's only religious mores preventing this from happening. As if progressive types don't also have their justifications to stop people from doing sex work. It's either ignorant or fake on his part.

  • Crusty Juggler - Lawbertarian||

    I'm offended by him acting like it's only religious mores preventing this from happening.

    That's not what he said.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You mean the "hangups" comment?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Because if so, you're right. I combine across the "or" comment and didn't take them as two statements. If not, please explain.

  • Fuzzyedia||

    "I'm offended"

    Using "I'm offended" where an actual argument would usually go certainly confirms your liberal bona fides, but CJ has it right that you have what he said wrong

    While I suspect most of the "not particularly religious folks" fall more into the sexual hang-up category, what both have in common is the inability to respect or treat those who make different sexual choices than they would with "dignity, respect, and love."

    I mean, how else could you get likes of jilted wife Swanee Hunt and "you will all burn in hell for your sins" Jerry Falwell Jr. in the same room cooing with affection at each other?

  • Chipper Morning, Mean Girl||

    It's not so much conservatives or progressives keeping prostitution illegal, as it is female voters.

  • CE||

    One less restriction for lobbyists then.

  • Hugh Akston||

    "It's about treating people with dignity, respect, and love, over whatever they were taught in church or whatever hangups they have about sex."

    That seems like the opposite of how government works.

  • ||

    That seems like the opposite of how government works.

    Says you. For some of us, the government's been forcing us to "dignify", "respect", and "love" people against our will for a couple of decades.

    Seriously, I'm 100% on board with dignity and respect. In reality, talking behind people's backs, taking their advice and then doing the exact opposite because they're dumb, it's probably closer to 75%. So, 66% at best, with dignity, respect, and love.

  • Juice||

    "Arresting our way out of the problem is not the solution. The approach should be a harm reduction and human rights approach."

    How did this man ever get elected in DC?

  • IamNotEvil||

    They heard "Arresting our way out of the problem" and then quit listening because their twitter feed updated.

  • John C. Randolph||

    So, he wants to legalize K street?

    -jcr

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    And lose the one thing that can bring a politician to an embarrassing, tearful resignation? No thank you.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    +1 dead girl or live boy

  • Lily Bulero||

    Don't forget the Edward Kennedy exception to the former.

  • Phos||

    I think you can find exceptions to the later also. As long as that person is useful to the establishment.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    This lets Congress off on a technicality.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Meh. Like congress would let them.

  • docwatson55||

    That would be called, "after the fact".

  • ||

    Start your home business right now... Start her>>>

    Apropos typo from Anonbot? John better watch out!

    H/T: Lily

  • Tony||

    Well the jokes write themselves on this one.

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