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By Hannah Marr, News Editor • June 21, 2024

It’s time for the D.C. Council to decriminalize sex work

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed financial strain on millions of Americans. Some of these cash-strapped Americans have used sex work through websites like OnlyFans to make some extra cash. The only issue facing these workers is that the practice is criminalized – and we’re still trudging through a pandemic. 

While sites like OnlyFans are not exclusively used for sex work, the platform has rapidly become a haven for sex workers because they can make connections and get paid through the platform – a relatively safer way of finding clients during the health crisis. But its online popularity has also brought to light the validity of sex work that has been debated in the District for years. The only issue standing in the way of the profession is the D.C. Council, which has the opportunity to recognize it and ensure sex workers can continue their work. 

Late last month, the D.C. Council struck down a bill that would have decriminalized the selling and buying of sex. But with the new year comes a new Council. On Jan. 2, those who were elected to office in November will be sworn in. As this new wave of legislators rolls in, the Council must reconsider the legislation and recognize sex work – one of the oldest professions in history that is worthy of protections.

Sex workers have been advocating for their profession’s decriminalization for decades. While they have made a little headway nationwide, there is still a long way to go until the country changes its mind on the validity and morality of sex work. If the District decided to decriminalize sex work, it would set a precedent for other major cities like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to follow suite. 

The bill is especially important to pass during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this crisis, sex workers were excluded from receiving a stimulus check in the CARES Act – putting them in an even more dire situation than they previously were. Should sex work be decriminalized, it would be one step closer to allowing their trade to be federally recognized and given the assistance they need during these tumultuous times – be it legal or medical assistance. 

In Nevada, the decriminalization of sex work in certain counties has allowed for the legalization of regulated brothels that create tax revenue, provide regular tests for sexually transmitted infections and get workers off the streets where they are likely to be victims of other crimes. While some workers have faced issues with the high bar that is set for sex workers in these counties, there is no denying that working within the law is safer than working outside of it. 

The criminalization of sex work also puts those in the industry in serious danger because it promotes no police contact. If a sex worker is a victim of a serious crime that should be reported to the police, it is likely that they will not seek help or assistance because they are likely to get slapped with fines and charges. In some states, more than one prostitution charge equates to a felony – encouraging those within the industry to try and fly as below the radar as possible, which makes them more susceptible to being victims of violent crimes. 

Organizations like The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for the decriminalization of sex work after staggeringly high victimization rates among prostitutes. Sex work is one of the most dangerous professions to be in, and those within it deserve to protect their health and safety. 

You don’t have to agree with the moral and ethical actions surrounding sex work, but that should not get in the way of providing a vulnerable community with the ability to organize and protect themselves. Decriminalizing sex work is not a moral issue, it is a human rights issue and needs to be seen as such. 

Hannah Thacker, a junior majoring in political communication, is the opinions editor.

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