Lauren Hersh is the national director of World Without Exploitation.

Imagine a world where our nation’s capital has become a hub of sex tourism. Picture it: A place where pimps can sell people freely, brothels proliferate and men can purchase the bodies of women and girls for sexual use any place, any time, and it’s all perfectly legal.

This is precisely what’s about to happen in the District in the coming months if the deceptively named Community Health and Safety Act of 2019 passes. Our nation’s capital is on the brink of giving sexual predators more power, stamping legal some of the most misogynistic, exploitative conduct. And one thing’s for sure, this bill won’t keep anyone healthy or safe.

Supporters of this legislation want you to believe that the bill simply would decriminalize those sold in prostitution, reducing interactions between victims of prostitution and the police. If that were the case, survivors and those working to end sex trafficking would be championing the bill.

But it would not, and facts matter. This bill would decriminalize people in prostitution, but it also would decriminalize pimps, sex buyers and brothel owners. Put another way, this legislation would make pimping legal in the District.

This is precisely why more than 200 sex trade survivors have signed a letter to the D.C. Council opposing the bill. In the letter, survivors urge the council to instead support a partial decriminalization provision, also known as the Equality Model, that decriminalizes people in prostitution while holding pimps, sex buyers and brothel owners accountable for the devastating harm they cause.

Tina Frundt, founder and executive director of Courtney’s House, a D.C.-based, survivor-led program, admonished the council for putting forward legislation that will hurt more victims than it will help. Frundt said, “If the Community Safety and Health Act of 2019 is approved by the D.C. Council, human trafficking and sexual exploitation of our most marginalized D.C. residents would dramatically increase — the exact opposite effect this legislation purports to accomplish.”

Make no mistake about it, this bill affects all of us. In a city where laws are created and powerful men abound, this bill serves up our most marginalized women and girls to be bought and pimped out legally. What message does that send to our girls? To our boys?

Those who are sold in prostitution should not be arrested or prosecuted; that only makes them more vulnerable. Instead, prostitution survivors should be empowered with exit strategies and services, and those who exploit them should face consequences. The proposed law, by contrast, allows harm to go unchecked.

Over the past year, Jeffrey Epstein showed us the face of sex buying. Like most exploiters, Epstein used his power and money to prey on women and girls — who were vulnerable in multiple ways whether they had reached their 18th birthdays — and use them repeatedly for sexual pleasure. This bill allows powerful men to freely and without consequence buy and sell marginalized women and girls. Is this the world we want to live in?

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