ON MAY 18, the New Hampshire Union Leader published an oped “Sex work is not work” by Jasmine Grace, founder of Jasmine Grace Outreach, one of many organizations raising awareness about human trafficking by conflating it with adult consensual prostitution.
Among many things, Ms. Grace asks us to “Look at what happened in Rhode Island when they decriminalized ‘indoor’ prostitution for nearly 30 years.”
What she is referring to is a judicial decision in the 1970s that declared Rhode Island’s prostitution laws unconstitutional due to flagrant gender discrimination. Rhode Island legislators failed to correct the statute and simply removed it from the books. In 2003, an attorney noticed the loophole and between 2003-2009 indoor sex work was in fact decriminalized.
Researchers have looked into this unintended experiment and, contrary to what Ms. Grace would have you believe, found some startlingly positive results. Reported rapes of women in Rhode Island dropped 40% and rates of gonorrhea dropped 30%. Around the world human rights advocates, researchers, and even the World Health Organization have pointed to the Rhode Island experiment in their advocacy for the full decriminalization of sex work.
Right now there is a bill in Rhode Island proposing a closer study of the 2003-2009 data, and research from around the world, to see which legal framework for prostitution best promotes health and safety. A similar study commission is being considered in Vermont and issues central to sex workers’ well being are currently in front of the New Hampshire Legislature. New Zealand fully decriminalized adult consensual prostitution in 2003, and studies consistently show a dramatic reduction in human trafficking, violence and exploitation within the sex industry. A study released in 2017 found that the introduction of craigslist erotic services correlated with a drop in female homicides by 17% across major cities.
We’re pleased states are looking into this research, but we already know what they will find: decriminalizing sex work improves health and safety.
Ms. Grace, and many like her, were exploited in an obviously abusive relationship. We need better victims’ services in New Hampshire, and around the country, to help victims of labor trafficking and domestic violence. We do not need to police adults who engage in consensual prostitution.
Contrary to what Ms. Grace believes, all kinds of people do sex work. Some feel exploited and unhappy. Others are in fact, “liberated and independent business owners.” Regardless of how people feel about their work, no one wants to be arrested for trying to make a living.
We know what black markets do to economies. Pushing the sex trade underground hasn’t made it go away, it’s only made it more dangerous for everyone involved. Pimps, like bootleggers and dangerous cartels, thrive in the black market. In order to empower sex workers and put coercive pimps out of business we need the full decriminalization of adult consensual prostitution.
The people advocating for the full decriminalization of sex work are human rights advocates and sex workers themselves. I should know, I’m one of them.