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Recently, legislation to decriminalize sex work has been introduced in both DC and New York state, and several presidential candidates, including Sens.
Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, have said they support some degree of decriminalization.
(Some sex workers use the term “prostitute” to refer to themselves, while others do not.) A major part of the fight for sex workers’ rights has been a push for decriminalization, or removal of criminal penalties for selling and buying sex.
In general, “prostitution remains illegal and criminalized across the country,” Kate Mogulescu, an assistant professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School, told Vox.
Advocates say getting rid of those penalties is the only way to keep sex workers safe from police harassment and the damaging effects of arrests and fines — and to guarantee them full human rights as workers in America.
Activists have been pushing for decriminalization worldwide for years, and they’ve had some successes: New Zealand removed criminal penalties in 2003, and Amnesty International called on all countries to do so in 2016.
“This is something that you can find across the board with sex workers,” she said.
The only state where sex work is legal in some counties is Nevada, but the counties must have fewer than 700,000 residents — this excludes Clark County, where Las Vegas is located.
Even in the legal counties, the sector is highly regulated — sex workers can only work in licensed brothels and must be tested regularly for sexually transmitted infections.
“It needs to happen,” says Spellman, who also works with the service and advocacy organization HIPS.
“It deserves to happen.” Sex workers face stigma and prosecution in the US and around the world.
“I’ve had them call me names, tell me that I was stupid, that whatever happened to me out there, I deserved it for being out there,” she told Vox.