At first blush, it is easy to assume that decriminalizing prostitution will embolden sex traffickers and increase victimization. People such as Tina Frundt and Nicholas Kristof assert as much. However, the reality is that decriminalizing sex work, as proposed recently by D.C. Council members David Grosso (I-At Large) and Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), will reduce sex trafficking.
Research I conducted for my book on human trafficking shows that decriminalization of sex work is an evidenced-based approach to combating sex trafficking. While there is research to suggest that legalization does create a protective veneer that would facilitate the impunity of sex traffickers, decriminalization is a different approach entirely. Decriminalizing sex work does not make prostitution legal; it just empowers victims to come forward without fear of erroneous criminalization.
I've gone to "the track" in the District, where women are sold for sex on the street. In speaking with these women, I've learned that some of them are pimped and have been nearly drowned, hit, shot or stabbed. Many never alerted the authorities of the abuse, for fear of punishment. Far too often, victims of sex trafficking who muster the courage to call the police are erroneously arrested themselves, instead of their abusers.
It is clear that any anti-trafficking advocate who opposes this legislation is misguided, as decriminalizing sex work will undoubtedly bring sex- trafficking victims out of the shadows.
Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, Montclair, Va.