Opponents of a bill in the DC City Council that would fully decriminalize prostitution in Washington DC (Bill 23-0318 a.k.a. The Community Safety and Health Act of 2019) stand outside of a public hearing on October 17, 2019
November 19, 2019

Victory! D.C. Buries Sex Trade Decriminalization Bill—For Now

In a significant development for the movement to end sexual exploitation, a bill under consideration by the Council of the District of Columbia to fully decriminalize the commercial sex trade (including acts of pimping, sex buying, and brothel keeping) “will not move forward” according to Charles Allen, chair of the DC Council Judiciary Committee, quoted Sunday in The Washington Post.

We at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) were emphatically opposed to the Orwellian-titled proposal, Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (23-0318). NCOSE met with council members, staff, the mayor’s office, and other DC officials to inform and educate them on how the data and research show that sex trafficking and exploitation increase exponentially wherever the sex trade is normalized.

NCOSE helped mobilize opposition to the problematic bill at a decisive public hearing on October 17. As a result, Councilmember Anita Bonds, a bill cosponsor, told NPR she could no longer support decriminalizing sex buying based on opponents’ arguments.

Four NCOSE staff members testified against full decriminalization based on subject matter expertise. NCOSE also provided unifying graphics (#ProtectSurvivorsNotBuyers; #FullDecrimHurtsEveryone); flew in a Reno-based expert on exploitation in Nevada’s legal brothel system; and brought to the hearing two teen-age survivors of sex trafficking in DC who have been relocated to another city.

DC should shrink the sex trade not legitimize it,” said NCOSE president Patrick Trueman. “Full decriminalization would endanger D.C.’s most vulnerable citizens while turning the city into a magnet for sex tourism and sex trafficking.”  Trueman warned that this critical matter will come up again before the DC Council but NCOSE will continue to fight for the protection of sexually exploited people.

There are many ways that sexually exploitative industries and their advocates have attempted to normalize and legitimize the prostitution of human beings, but they all have significant problems and lead to destructive harms of all kinds.

In fact, where prostitution is legalized/legitimized there’s an increase in sex trafficking, as demonstrated by an academic study of 150 countries led by the London School of Economics.

Why? For several logical reasons:

  1. Once you normalize the sex trade, it explodes. In Germany, where prostitution and brothels have been legal since 2002, an estimated one million men buy sex each day, coming from all over the world. The capital city, Berlin, has over 500 brothels.
  2. Men who don’t buy sex when it is illegal, become new clients. As a 2018 study of 8,000 U.S. men demonstrates, over 20% of respondents who never bought sex, would consider engaging in exploitation  if it was decriminalized or legalized. 
  3. To satisfy demand, the sex trade has to lure in vulnerable people, because there are never enough women willing to be exploited and degraded in prostitution. Sex trafficking cases increased 70% in Germany as a result of legalization. In the Netherlands where prostitution was legalized in 2000, an estimated 50-90% of women are selling their bodies against their will.
  4. Further, prostitution is inherently dangerous and harmful. The only way to protect people is to shrink the market. A 2018 study of prostituted women, including trans women, in the U.S. found 61% suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries while in “the Life.” In a nine-country study of 785 prostituted women, 68% suffered PTSD at same severity as combat veterans and victims of state torture. The mortality rate of women in prostitution is 200 times the rate of the general population, according to a Colorado medical study examining two decades of evidence. In an academic survey of women, including trans women, in DC engaged in street prostitution, 42% met the criteria for PTSD, 61% percent reported being physically assaulted, nearly 80% reported being threatened with a weapon, and 44% had been raped in prostitution, with 60% of these rapes committed by sex buyers

Proponents of full decriminalization of prostitution attempt to frame their perspective(s) as being safer for prostituted people; however, the research indicates that the legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution is a dangerous thing for the prostituted people involved.

Learn more about the harms of fully decriminalizing prostitution at EndSexualExploitation.org/NoAmnesty.

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National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Founded in 1962, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is the leading national organization exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation such as child sexual abuse, prostitution, sex trafficking and the public health crisis of pornography.

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