At a recent Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting for public affairs and crime, ANC commissioners, Mayor Muriel Bowser and local residents discussed neighborhood issues — and sex workers were at the top of their list.
Commissioners and residents discussed the decriminalization bill that was first written in 2017.
The decriminalization of sex work bill was then introduced by council members David Grosso and Robert White. The legislation of the bill would fully decriminalize sex trade within the District, including acts of pimping, purchasing sex and operating brothels.
Mayor Bowser said she doesn’t support the bill and is working with the Shaw and Logan neighborhoods to handle the concern. She added that the profession itself is dangerous.
“I have never supported the bill. I am working with communities right now to help solve this problem. We will continue to work with MPD on this joint effort. A lot of sex work is just not safe for sex workers and the communities,” Bowser said.
Bowser also said the D.C. government has certain plans in place like funding to fix public housing and funding towards District of Columbia Housing Authority to help sex workers find a way out of the sex work industry.
“If sex workers are looking for a way out, they can reach out to my team. We have programs and people that would be more than open to help,” Bowser said.
According to former ANC Commissioner Helen Hawk, the proposal needs to be vetoed immediately. She said prostitution is starting to become more common and children should not be vulnerable to it.
“One morning my neighbor was walking her dog and 10 women were soliciting. Veto the bill. People can’t sleep and children shouldn’t be exposed to this type of stuff,” Hawk said.
Similarly, ANC Commissioner Kevin Sylvester said decriminalization won’t solve the problem of sex work in the neighborhood. He also said many kids live in the community and questions what example is being set for them if sex work is promoted.
While most residents and ANC commissioners were in agreement of vetoing the bill, a District-based organization called Rights 4 Girls offered their own critical thoughts.
Yasmin Vafa, executive director for Rights 4 Girls, said she is opposed to the sex decriminalization bill’s current layout because it gives power to the exploiters.
“The decriminalization bill has nothing set up and has no regulations. It will legalize and support men pursuing girls like in Nevada and people will suffer more. People like me who work in this industry know you’re giving more power to the exploiters,” Vata said.
Rights 4 Girls is a human rights organization in the District that advocates for the dignity and rights of young women and girls, so they can live a life free of violence and exploitation, according to the organization’s website.
According to Vafa, the best approach would be partial decriminalization or the Equality Model. This plan proposes that sex workers are cleared of their criminal record so they can get jobs. The plan also calls for large fines against those who exploit sex workers, with the money being allocated back to the workers. And, the Equality Model provides health care to help sex workers find a way out of the sex work profession.
“We hope D.C. Council will take their words to heart and enact partial decriminalization, preventing more trauma and prioritizing the safety of our District’s most marginalized women and youths,” Vafa said.