“Everybody has sex,” says Tamika Spellman. “The only difference is that we charge for it.”
Spellman has been a sex worker in Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. In that time, she’s faced a stream of abusive behavior from police.
“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.
Officers have made comments like, “it would be all right if you were out here working, so long as I get lunch,” Spellman said, essentially forcing her to buy them a meal to avoid being arrested.
She’s also been sexually assaulted by officers, she told Vox. “This is something that you can find across the board with sex workers,” she said. Police “take advantage of us.”
Then there is the financial toll of criminalization. Repeated arrests and fines for doing sex work have driven Spellman further into poverty. She’s currently homeless.
Criminal penalties can take a toll on sex workers’ families too. Spellman’s children are grown now, with children of their own — she even has a great-grandchild. But when they were young, she said, “those arrests really took away from my babies.”
The solution, for Spellman and other sex workers’ rights advocates, is decriminalization: the removal of criminal penalties for selling and buying sex. 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. But in the United States, where buying and selling sex is illegal everywhere except for a few counties in Nevada, decriminalization has been a tougher sell. […]