Document prepared as a part of a Hill Briefing in D.C. that took place on March 14th, 2019.
As organizations working across diverse communities, we recognize that people who trade sex are an important part of our communities. To meaningfully improve the health, safety and wellness for our communities, policing, criminalization, stigma and isolation of people who trade sex must be addressed. We ask policymakers, representatives and our allies and partners to take a critical look at the way sex work is marginalized through current policy and seek to address these harms.
- Sex Work is an LGBTQ Issue. LGBTQ people (especially those who are black and transgender) face high levels of discrimination in every area of life, leading to high levels of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness. In a 2015 survey of transgender people, 19% reported doing some type of sex work for food, money, or a place to sleep. In a 2011 survey of transgender people, of those engaged in sex work, 69% had experienced a negative job outcome such as being fired or denied a job because of being transgender, nearly half (48%) had experienced homelessness, and nearly a third (31%) lived on less than $10,000 a year.
- For many in the LGBTQ community, sex work means survival. As a result of systemic discrimination against LGBTQ people, many LGB and transgender people engage in sex work to earn income or trade sex for housing or other needs. Transgender people engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women.
- Sex workers face violence from the public and authorities, including police harassment. One study of New York sex workers reported that 80% had been victims of violence, including 27% at the hands of police. Twenty-three percent of LGBTQ murder victims on the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were killed while engaging in sex work. Sex workers report being extorted and sexually exploited by police officers. Transgender women across the country, particularly transgender women of color, report police profiling them as sex workers even when they are engaged in activity such as gathering with friends in a public space or walking down the street.
- Criminalizing sex work creates public health and public safety risks. Criminalization of sex work (including treating condoms as evidence of prostitution) and stigma drive sex work underground, impeding public health efforts to reach sex workers and their clients with HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programs. Multiple studies have also shown that criminalizing sex work, even only criminalizing clients, forces sex workers to engage in higher risk encounters, and increases the risk of violence.
As organizations that support the health, rights and wellbeing of sex workers, we recommend policymakers and staff members:
- Meet with sex workers and sex worker-led organizations in your district to better understand the impact of criminalization and policing;
- Include people who trade sex in policy conversations on issues including trafficking, policing reform, health and racial equity; and
- Consider the impact of anti-trafficking policy on people who trade sex with the goal of addressing the root causes of exploitation and not exacerbating vulnerability to exploitation.
American Civil Liberties Union
Amnesty International USA
Black and Pink
Center for Health and Gender Equity
Freedom Network USA
Harm Reduction Coalition
Human Trafficking Prevention Project at the University of Baltimore School of Law
National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Center for Transgender Equality
National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National Network of Community Advocacy
Reframe Health and Justice
The Sero Project
Sex Workers Outreach Project USA
The Sex Workers Project
SWOP Behind Bars
The Support Ho(s)e Collective
Third Wave Fund
Woodhull Freedom Foundation