California Lawsuit Could Decriminalise Prostitution!

We all know what the best solution is to make the sex industry safer, and it isn’t criminalising the client. Criminalisation pushes the industry underground and makes it much more dangerous for sex workers. What we should be doing is decriminalising it and accepting the fact that sex work is real work.
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No matter what we do or say, it is like we are talking to a brick wall. Nobody wants to listen to those who understand what exactly criminalisation will do to the industry. They don’t want to hear the opinions of sex workers on their own jobs. They simply want to reach out and help those who aren’t even asking to be rescued in the first place.

However, people are starting to fight back and make their voice heard. They aren’t accepting that this is the way things are going to be. The Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education, and Research Project (known as ESPLERP) has, as of Wednesday, filed a lawsuit. This lawsuit, which is against the attorney general of the state of California, could potentially decriminalise sex work in some American states.

Violation of rights

Sounds huge, right? Imagine if this case could do that. If some American states accept that decriminalisation is the best solution, other states and countries around the world might start thinking the same. But how could a lawsuit do this?

Basically, there are four plaintiffs claiming that their constitutional rights have been violated when the Californian prostitution law has been enforced. Three of the plaintiffs are former sex workers, while the fourth is a disabled client. They feel that the enforcement of the prostitution laws in California have actually violated their “constitutional rights to privacy, free speech, substantive due process right to earn a living, and freedom of association”.

In other words, what happens between consenting adults behind closed doors is no-one’s business, and by making it their business they are taking away the rights of those involved.

The former sex workers are hoping to have the chance to continue their work, which they cannot currently do due to the laws prohibiting them. The laws are not only making it difficult for them to work, but it is also making it more dangerous for them. The client hopes that this lawsuit will allow him to hire sex workers for his own personal needs.

Fighting the stigma

How long have we been fighting the stigma that surrounds sex work? People assume that they understand sex work because they’ve watched a documentary on it, or because they’ve seen the papers when they talk about prostitution. Even worse is when they make assumption because of fictional TV shows or movies that had sex workers in them.

The stigma about sex work comes mainly from ignorance. People don’t understand what sex work is about, and they assume that sex work only takes place on a street corner. They forget about the indoor sex workers who can pick and choose their clients to ensure their safety.

Yet here in Ireland, it seems that the opinions of sex workers are being ignored. Instead, they are aiming to criminalise the client. To them, stopping sex work completely is part of a magical formula. If you remove the demand then the supply will stop too. Problem solved, right?

Wrong. We all know that isn’t going to work. Telling someone what they can and can’t do just doesn’t work. People are allowed to make their own choices in life, and the best way to keep those in the sex industry safe is to accept it as a real job and stop making those involved criminals.
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Filing the lawsuit

Believe it or not, work on this lawsuit actually began back in 2008. The plaintiffs were inspired to start it when Proposition K failed to pass. If it had, then prostitution would have been decriminalised in San Francisco.

As it didn’t the president of ESPLERP was wondering just what to do next. Something had to be done to show that sex workers aren’t going to be silent. Leader of COYOTE Margot St. James suggested that “it would take a legal threat to overturn California’s prostitution laws”, as that is what made it possible to decriminalise prostitution on Rhode Island back in 1980.

They filed the case and are now waiting to see what happens next. There are a number of things that could happen as a result of this. The state could simply make a motion to dismiss the case, though ESPLERP and their attorney are hopefully that it will go to trial.

If it does go to trial, it could not only change the law in California, but it could have a knock-on effect for many other states.

Why decriminalisation is important

Decriminalisation is hugely important to the industry. If we are ever to make those working in it safer, then decriminalisation and not criminalisation is what we need to do.

For a start, criminalising it actually encourages violence against sex workers. It makes their jobs a lot more difficult, as their “right to security of the person” is taken away. Many sex workers don’t feel comfortable talking to the police as it is, as they simply feel they don’t get the justice they deserve. Imagine how much worse it will be when criminalisation comes into force!

The main reason people want to get rid of sex work all together is because they mistakenly use the term sex work for human trafficking interchangeably. They think they are one and the same. However, stopping sex work would not stop human trafficking. The two are separate issues, and it is about time they were treated as such.

What are you hopes for the future of sex work? Do you think this lawsuit’s success will have an impact on what is happening in Ireland, or will it fall on deaf ears? Post your thoughts in the comment box below, or visit the Escort Ireland forum and share your views there.

Lara Mills
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