Supporting Black Trans Sex Workers Means Providing Resources, Not Criminalization

Sex workers need housing, resources, and safety from police violence, not increased profiling and harassment.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance—a day to honor all trans lives, especially those lost and harmed by violence. It’s significant that just last week, an anonymous trans sex worker in the DC metro area made a report about the rampant sexual abuse that people in the sex trade experience at the hands of the police.

Many survival sex workers in the DC area are Black and brown trans women who have been denied access to employment, housing, health care, and more. As members of the  Sex Workers' Advocates Coalition who are working on the DECRIMNOW campaign to decriminalize the buying and selling of sex in DC, we believe and are in solidarity with the survivor and others as they bravely come forward with their stories.

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Police officers often use the threat of arrest and other punishments to coerce people in the sex trade into doing sexual acts without payment, and arrest people who they perceive to be sex workers for offenses like carrying condoms. Vicious stories of entrapment, sexual coercion, harassment and fear-mongering by police towards people doing survival sex work can only happen because sex workers are seen as criminals before they are seen as people making the best decisions in front of them to provide for themselves and their families. Criminalizing sex workers allows—and potentially emboldens—law enforcement to hide behind the blue wall of silence while policing those at the margins and abusing them with impunity.

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Police sexual abuse and brutality is a widespread problem for people in the sex trade, especially Black, Latinx, trans, poor, and/or undocumented sex workers. Sexual violence is the second most common form of police misconduct, after excessive force. When the National Center for Transgender Equality conducted the 2015 US Transgender Survey, they found that almost nine out of ten trans sex workers who interacted with the police either while doing sex work, or while the police mistakenly thought they were doing sex work, reported being harassed, attacked, sexually assaulted, or mistreated in some other way by police.

In a 2015 survey, up to 15% of trans feminine people in DC reported having been sexually assaulted by police. In another survey, nearly 20% of sex workers in DC who had been approached by police reported having been asked for sex by the officer. For trans people doing sex work, police and law enforcement are often threats, not protectors, of their safety.

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Black and Latinx trans people in the sex trade have spoken out about police abuse for decades. Now, news and media outlets must expand on coverage of stories like these by humanizing people with lived experience in the sex trade and their allies to uncover the truth about police abuse against sex workers.

Police officers that sexually assault people work for police departments that cover up their brutality and abuse then investigate themselves without civilian oversight and send assailants back into communities with little more than a slap on the wrist.  Elected officials must decriminalize sex work to mitigate police abuse against people in the sex trade. DC could be a model for decriminalization across the country, and there is no better time than now to push DC elected officials, community members, and advocates to decriminalize sex work and invest in resources like housing, jobs, healthcare, and education to benefit the safety of everyone in our communities.

A coalition of DC residents, sex workers, advocates, lawyers, and allies

Will you join the fight to decriminalize sex work and to support people in the sex trade?

Help us bring the bill to a hearing in the DC City Council by signing the petition, donate to our work, help us canvass to gain community support for decriminalization, or subscribe to the DECRIMNOW Newsletter!

Featured image was created by Maura Dwyer and Evan Mahone, from Collective Action for Safe Spaces, in solidarity with the #FreeGiGi campaign