‘A mecca for prostitution’? A new bill seeks to decriminalize sex work in D.C.
| Oct. 18, 2019
Washington Post – Five hours into a Thursday hearing on a controversial bill that would decriminalize the sex trade in the nation’s capital, D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) implored the crowd to settle down. He hammered his gavel. He called for a recess.
But it was no use. Tensions and disagreements that had been simmering since the morning exploded on the floor before the council’s Public Safety Committee.
Sex workers and their supporters broke into chants of “decrim now!” as those opposed to the bill rose from their seats. Each side shook their heads at the other.
The bill at the center of the hearing would amend existing city laws to eliminate criminal penalties for selling or buying sex in the District.
If passed, the District would become the only U.S. jurisdiction to allow prostitution, outside of some counties in Nevada where about 20 legal brothels exist.
Prostitution involving minors and coercing others to engage in sex work against their will would remain illegal.
Thursday’s hearing was the first time the community could comment on the legislation, introduced in June by council members David Grosso (I-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large). Public comments are open online through Nov. 1.
Proponents of the legislation — sex workers, LGBTQ rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and public health organizations among them — said the bill would empower sex workers and would make it easier for them to find housing and, eventually, to leave the industry, as they would not have prostitution-related arrests on their records.
“The decriminalization of sex work would make sex workers safer by allowing them to report violence without fear of arrest,” said Tyrone Hanley, senior policy counsel with the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Read more.