Prostitution legalization advocate leads NH task force
A woman hired with federal grant money to combat sex trafficking in New Hampshire has advocated for decriminalization of prostitution and has described herself as “a community organizer for people who trade sex.”
Kate D’Adamo, formerly the national policy advocate for the Sex Workers Project, is slated to appear before the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force Advisory Committee this morning, according to an email shared with the New Hampshire Union Leader.
She will be introduced as the new program director for the effort.
Last year, the Sex Workers Project supported New Hampshire legislation to decriminalize prostitution. In a news release, the nonprofit organization claimed decriminalization, which failed, would protect sex workers from violence, prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and reduce trafficking and exploitation.
In an interview this week, D’Adamo wouldn’t discuss her personal beliefs on the legalization of prostitution. That’s not what’s important, she said.
Rather, D’Adamo said she has nine years of experience dealing with marginalized people, and she has worked on a task force in New York state to fight human trafficking.
“I believe that people trade sex for a lot of reasons,” D’Adamo said. “They’re incredibly nuanced and personal reasons. I never ask (them) ‘What are you doing?’ I ask ‘What do you need and how can you best be served?’”
New Hampshire’s trafficking task force is formed around $1.3 million in grants that the U.S. Justice Department awarded to two New Hampshire organizations — the Manchester Police Department and the private, nonprofit Child and Family Services.
Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard said his department had nothing to do with D’Adamo’s hiring.
Willard said he doesn’t know of D’Adamo or her past organization, but he is opposed to legalization of prostitution. He said he can’t understand how someone would support legalization of prostitution but also be against human trafficking.
“It seems counter-intuitive to me,” he said.
If prostitution were legal, he said, it would be harder to find victims of human trafficking. He said most career prostitutes start as victims of human trafficking.
Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said domestic abuse programs are seeing large increases in reports of human trafficking.
Trafficking victims may initially exchange sex for drugs or a place to sleep, and then quickly lose control over their lives, Sexton said.
“We think it’s very important that prostitution remains a crime and that the human trafficking program and the (Human Trafficking Collaborative) Task Force doesn’t seek to try to legalize prostitution in any way,” Sexton said.
Sex Workers Project is an arm of the New York-based Urban Justice Center. The Sex Workers Project said it provides “client-centered legal and social services to individuals who engage in sex work, regardless of whether they do so by choice, circumstance, or coercion.”
Other news releases by the organization praised Amnesty International for endorsing the decriminalization of sex work; faulted police for arrests connected to escort-oriented websites such as Backpage and Rentboy; and criticized federal anti-trafficking legislation for focusing too much on law enforcement and not enough on victims.
D’Adamo said Thursday that trafficking involves more than prostitution and can include exploitation of low-wage workers, teenage runaways and immigrants. She said she was drawn to the New Hampshire job because it would provide her the opportunity to work directly with marginalized populations rather than as a policy advocate.
“The conversation of decriminalization (of prostitution) is a valid conversation and deserves time and space to be heard,” she said. Last week, the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice Committee retained a bill calling for a committee to study decriminalization of sex work.
In writings and quotes found online, D’Adamo has said:
• Decriminalization of prostitution in New Hampshire would be “a bold first step in addressing the violence, exploitation and discrimination that too many in the sex industry face.”
• In a commentary in Advocate.com about Rentboy-related indictments, D’Adamo said sex workers identify law enforcement “as one of the worst perpetrators of violence.” She also described herself as a “community organizer for people who trade sex.”
• In the same article, D’Adamo wrote: “it was inspiring for me to see so many LGBT leaders come out and declare that sex work was not a shame to keep hidden, but an issue in which we all have a stake.”
D’Adamo has also worked with the International Commission for Labor Rights, Global Workers Justice Alliance and the Open Society Foundation, according to a biography on the Sex Workers Project website.
The email list of New Hampshire trafficking task force includes officials in state and federal government, including assistant attorneys general, health and human services officials, labor department officials and law enforcement.
The U.S. Justice Department announced the New Hampshire grants last fall, and Manchester police and Child and Family Services have contracted with a nonprofit organization titled Give Way to Freedom to run the grant.
Erin Albright, the regional program director for Give Way to Freedom, said her organization made the final decision to hire D’Adamo, but she was interviewed by several New Hampshire organizations, including law enforcement. Albright would not disclose the organizations without their consent.
The job pays $65,000 to $70,000 a year, according to an online job posting.