Courts, Chambers & Cultural

Sex Workers Say Human Trafficking Laws Are Making Their Jobs More Dangerous

“I want safety of women, yes. I don’t want prostitution.” In the District of Columbia, City Council member David Grosso introduced legislation in 2017 to decriminalize all forms of sex work. The bill is backed by pro–sex worker groups including Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, one of the nation’s oldest sex worker advocacy groups, and activists say they are hopeful the City Council will take up the measure later this year. Whether or not it passes is in some ways beside the point. Given the stigma associated with the industry, getting a major metropolitan government to seriously consider decriminalization would be a major coup for a constituency that has largely operated in the shadows.

Sex Workers Vote Too

Julia Salazar, who is running for a New York state Senate seat representing north Brooklyn, arrived a few minutes later to send them off. She said sex workers—“my constituents”—are disproportionately criminalized in her district. Bushwick, for example, was among the top five New York City neighborhoods where police made “loitering for prostitution” arrests as of 2015. She referenced the Brooklyn courts, where 94 percent of those facing loitering for prostitution charges were Black. “That should disturb all of us,” she said. Salazar argued that sex work policing was a central part of a bigger problem with Brooklyn’s approach to criminal justice.

My Name Is Rick Not John

“As with most other data related to human trafficking, there are huge gaps between estimates of prevalence or populations at risk and individuals actually identified as trafficking victims or enrolled in government programs.  Better data and research are needed to begin distinguishing among possible reasons for the gaps between prevalence estimates and administrative data.”


AASECT distinguishes consensual sex work, which is undertaken by consenting adults by choice, from sex trafficking, which is undertaken as forced or coerced labor. Sex trafficking is a result of force, coercion, or the threat of force, and often involves children. Moreover, AASECT recognizes that sex workers, including sexological bodyworkers, surrogate partners, professional dominants, and lifestyle educators sometimes facilitate the work of sex educators, counselors, and therapists by providing hands-on adjunctive treatment services.