So, what say you if someone — as many people across America are having of late — asks you about the validity of decriminalization of sex work as an issue. Sure, you can break down various global models that have proven to be sustainable with varying levels of success. As well, you can speak to the importance of decriminalization as it relates to police no longer being able to disproportionately target women of color and trans women. But, what about that moment when someone brings up the fact that, if legislation gets passed, the desire for johns to oftentimes want to have sexual relations with underage people will allow for greater amounts of sex trafficking of children. There’s a hard, impassable line that’s drawn in the sand when you use “human trafficking of children” as a red herring argument in relation to stonewalling progressive ideation of modern sex work policy. Because these notions sadly correlate, it seems an impossible argument upon which to counter-argue. But, in nuance and negotiation being things that humans of any level of intelligence are equipped to do well, is it possible to navigate for a solution regarding this key facet of what is becoming an increasingly hot button issue?
In examining what’s currently happening regarding this issue in Washington, DC, some answers do become apparent in regards to the next best steps for handling this key component of a larger issue at hand.
After 14 hours and 180 separate testimonies on October 17, the District of Columbia has boldly taken another, of what will be likely many more steps required if sex work is to be legalized in the Nation’s Capital. The June 2019-proposed Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 is what is ultimately on the table. The legislation introduced by sex worker advocate and DC Councilman At-Large David Grosso would eliminate criminal prohibitions and penalties for consensual sex work. Furthermore, it would also establish a task force to evaluate the effects of removing criminal penalties and recommend further improvements to public safety, health, and human rights. However, the proposed legislation does not allow for the creation of red light districts in D.C. or regulate sex work. As well — and most important to consider for the purposes of this article — under the bill, it would still be illegal to coerce someone to engage in sex work nonconsensually. As well, human and child trafficking would remain against the law.
But, it’s the fact that child sex trafficking still happens that’s troublesome. And if only because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up so brilliantly as “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” that makes this all so concerning. Though numerous acts are illegal, illegal acts still occur on a daily basis literally everywhere in the world. When these acts involve say, children being coerced into sex work with adults two and three times their ages, it renders any other conversation in regards to any other issue regarding ways and reasons that sex work should be decriminalized invalid. Thse arguments are rendered false if only by cause of the rationalization of rape and pedophilia being a hard “no go” moral impasse for most people.
Tamika Spellman, a female trans sex worker and advocate at HIPS DC — a harm reduction nonprofit in the Nation’s Capital — helped to craft the legislation, and notes that many of the bill’s opponents “are trying to conflate this with a cure for trafficking,” and instead notes that the much larger benefit of the legislation is to “stop the unnecessary mass arrests that are happening.” Intriguingly, current arrest figures show that DC’s Metropolitan Police Department arrested approximately five johns for every sex worker. Thus, for those on the side of anti-trafficking, this is clear probable cause to note the strength of their claims. However, it is also important to note that there are those who are marginalized into sex work or for whom it is their preferred method of labor, whose clamoring for civil and professional rights is important.
The amount of things that can go wrong if you “Underground Railroad” safe, sane, and consensual sex work are significant. Health care and standardization in terms of the rights and privileges of both procurerer and worker are key. As well, it’s worthwhile to consider the reflexive concept, or what happens if laws reach America’s legal codes that empathize and advocate for the fostering of safe behavior. Laws that promote human rights create proudly sustainable industrialization for what could be a legally hyper-protected and studied sex work industry. Industrialization could also promote taxation on revenue by sex workers (which is its own set of issues related to control of money and bodies). For as troubling as that could be, the trade off of sex workers potentially receiving greater representation because they are members of a lucrative tax base. In the long run, the achievement of all of these goals promotes democratic freedom in America.
The clear need here is for compound and complex legislation that recognizes the qualms of those triggered by child trafficking specifically, while also remaining sensitive to super-marginalized communities. On the surface this seems simple enough. However, the probable cause for working to ensure that this occurs — data that, outside of profit earned by turning DC into a sex tourist destination shows ROI for local government in the issue — shows no direct pressing need to convene a committee of government actors and community players to start doing the necessary work. On the hierarchy of taboo causes that can eventually be remedied as necessities for a socially progressive society, it would appear as if legalized marijuana and public gambling are much easier pills to swallow than decriminalized sex work.
This may be the one issue in American history wherein logic fails to bridge human frailty and angst to craft an equitable solution. As a nation, for as much as America is founded on being an ethnic and social melting pot wherein everyone could potentially be wealthy and uniquely happy via free enterprise, that’s not always the case. America is also a country founded by white men who wrote laws that elevated a bizarre blend of the tenets of Christianity and a healthy dose of protection or person and property. This causes this unique self-interest to elevate to the place of being as, or more important than the logic one should foremost applies to legislation and jurisprudence.
This is not a problem that solves itself in a neat, clean, and/or likely in a timely manner. People don’t untether themselves from their morality nor do nations disengage from their creeds, overnight. Rather, disruptive change — similar, in this case, to the kind that occurred in America when a liberal Democrat whose race was deemed to be only 60% worthy of being American in the Constitution — can, by cause of the sweeping force of public opinion, unmoor nation’s from fervently held beliefs about themselves and their people. We’re likely a solid decade away from decriminalization of sex work. Yes, compassion, commerce, civility, carnality, and self-care absolutely deserve to be bedfellows. However, in first advocating for more unprecedented American change to occur, the paradigms required to create the synergy of kindness towards human frailty and softening the brutality of logic that child sex trafficking and sustainable sex work are dissimilar can eventually exist.