Washington, D.C.–Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement on the decision by human rights organization Amnesty International to support the decriminalization of sex work:
“I applaud Amnesty International for taking a position in support of decriminalization of sex work as a means to prevent human rights violations against sex workers. Amnesty International joins the ranks of those calling for decriminalization of sex work which includes the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch and the medical journal The Lancet.
It is my hope that by having a well-respected human rights organization like Amnesty International support decriminalization, we can begin the conversation about reforming similar D.C. laws and policies. For decades we have repeated the same practice over and over, trying to arrest our way to an end of sex work, but it has never worked. Instead criminalization has caused severe harm to communities.
My commitment to human rights predates my time in office and a human rights framework is interwoven into all of the work I do here on the D.C. Council. That commitment includes speaking out for the human rights of the most marginalized communities, including sex workers. I believe that we as a society are coming to realize that excessive criminalization is causing more harm than good, from school discipline to drug laws to homelessness. It is time for D.C. to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex.
As Amnesty International suggests, we should look at changing from the framework of criminalization to a framework that emphasizes the health and human rights of everyone involved. This has been my stance for some time and it is why I pushed to repeal the “prostitution free zones” law last year, sought to stop the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) from arresting young people accused of offering sex in exchange for money or a place to stay, and have encouraged MPD to consider new approaches in how it handles prostitution.
This a complex issue and there are real problems that we must address, from the trivial, like used condoms on the sidewalk, to the serious, like violence that sex workers face. A criminalization framework has not helped, but a human rights approach can. First, D.C. must fight stigma and discrimination, which are entwined with over-criminalization. Then, it is critical that we put the resources in place to allow people who trade sex for money to be as safe and healthy as possible, with their human rights respected–as well as to help anyone who does not want to engage in commercial sex to avoid or leave such a situation. Finally, we need to realize that only through a new approach to regulating commercial sex will we begin to see quality of life concerns abated. The bottom line is that D.C. is a human rights city and it is time for a change.”