Decriminalization of Sex Work to Improve Community Health and Safety, and to Protect the Human Rights of Sex Workers

“Sex work” is a consensual contractual relationship between adults whereby one or more individuals agrees to engage in sexual conduct with another individual(s) in return for financial remuneration.

WHEREAS, the criminalization of sex work fosters public health crises of STI and HIV transmission. Evidence complied by the U.N.’s Global Commission on HIV and the Law reveals that criminalization of sex work explicitly and directly undermines worldwide efforts to combat the HIV pandemic. The confiscation of condoms and lubricant by law enforcement, or the use of such materials as evidence of engaging in sex work, also undermines the ability of sex workers to avoid STI and HIV transmission.

WHEREAS, sex work is not equivalent to “human trafficking.” Human trafficking, as defined by the UN’s Palermo Protocol, consists of three elements: a.) an act by a third party b.) coercive means of trafficking (threats, force, deception, etc.), and c.) an illicit purpose. States should retain prohibitions on coercion and exploitation, including prohibitions on minors’ involvement in commercial sex and human trafficking law.

WHEREAS, sex work is labor, and it is often the primary means of economic survival for those who engage in sex work. Female sex workers often live in a state of relative poverty, but due to structural misogyny, are forced to shoulder the burden that the criminalization of sex work has on their ability to feed, house, and clothe themselves and their families.

WHEREAS, transgender women face high rates of discrimination in the workforce based on their gender identity and expression. As a result, they are ten times more likely than cisgender people to engage in sex work as a means of economic survival. Trans women are particularly vulnerable to the stigmatization due to criminalization of sex work. This stigmatization has the perverse effect of further marginalization, and they are frequently targets of excessive policing, regardless of whether or not they are engaged in sex work.

WHEREAS, the criminalization of sex work leads to harsh penalties, particularly for LGBT identified people, who are already susceptible to unfair discrimination. A criminal conviction for engaging in sex work can have devastating immigration consequences for people, and it can lead to deportation to countries where they could be victimized or prosecuted for their identity or orientation. Further, convictions can negatively impact one’s ability to find employment, attain professional licenses, or to keep their housing. Criminalization for sex work can lead to incarceration, where LGBT people are at increased risk for physical assault, sexual coercion and rape, the denial of adequate medical care, and other forms of discrimination.

WHEREAS, criminalization, with its marginalizing effects, allows for brutal violence against sex workers who are fearful of reporting such treatment to law enforcement, out of the justifiable fear that law enforcement will penalize them instead of the individual(s) who assaulted them. Similarly, minors and other trafficking victims are often fearful of reporting violence and coercion perpetrated against them due to fear that they will not be believed, but will face harsh legal consequences.

WHEREAS, to protect both consensual sex workers and human trafficking victims from the dire consequences of criminal convictions, jurisdictions should pass vacatur laws. Vacatur laws would erase records of prostitution related convictions, as well as nonviolent crimes that trafficking victims were forced to commit.

WHEREAS, regressive and counter-productive laws such as SESTA/FOSTA do nothing to effectively

combat human trafficking, but merely push sex workers further into the margins.1 The Department of Justice has stated that SESTA/FOSTA are not only unconstitutional, but will make it more difficult to prosecute and convict actual human traffickers.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED Pride at Work supports the decriminalization of sex work to improve community health and safety, and to protect the human rights of sex workers.

THEREFORE, BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED Pride at Work member organizations should encourage their local legislators to consult with sex workers themselves, HIV advocates, women’s groups, LGBTQ groups, human rights groups, physical and sexual assault advocates, and healthcare workers to provide greater services to sex workers.

Submitted by Jared Trujillo, Lindsay Adams, Lisa Ohta, Taylor James, and Richard Blum – New York City Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325
Approved August 25, 2018