Washtenaw County will no longer pursue criminal charges for consensual sex work

click to enlarge Washtenaw County will no longer pursue criminal charges for consensual sex work
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Washtenaw County's new prosecutor is laying waste to out-of-date policies and criminal charges regarding everything from drugs to, as of Thursday, consensual sex work.

Prosecutor Eli Savit — who earlier this week, released a pair of new policy directives that detailed why he would no longer charge criminal cases involving marijuana, "magic" mushrooms, or other entheogenic plants — says his office will now no longer pursue criminal charges relating to sex work.

Instead of criminalizing consensual sex work, Savit says the county will prioritize its resources to pursuing human trafficking, sex crimes involving children, and sexual abuse and assault cases. The hope is that more of the aforementioned crimes will be reported as a result of the new policy directive.

“The criminalization of sex work, in short, is in serious tension with established norms related to bodily autonomy and personal liberty,” the latest eight-page directive reads, which goes on to compare the ineffectiveness of alcohol Prohibition in the U.S. from 1920-1933 to the demonization of sex work, creating a dangerous black market in which sex workers — and their abusers — exist.
Because of this, Savit's office says, people feel free to abuse sex workers' rights and those who experience abuse, violence, or exploitation, are less likely to report these instances to law enforcement, fearful that they could be criminally charged.

“Research demonstrates that the criminalization of sex work 'enhances sex
workers’ vulnerabilities to violence and exploitation.' Because sex work 'is regarded as criminal activity . . . sex workers are easy targets for abuse and exploitation,'” the statement reads. “Criminalization forces sex workers to operate in 'isolated conditions and locations,' thereby increasing their 'physical vulnerability.'”

There are potential societal and worldwide medical benefits as a result of decriminalizing sex work, too. Among the directive's cited research is information from the world's leading independent medical journal, The Lancet, which suggests that decriminalizing sex work would be the greatest tool in reducing new HIV infections. The directive states that by legitimizing the work of sex workers, they may be able to enforce condom usage without fearing abuse and other harmful repercussions.

“We are laser-focused on crime that harms our community, and on protecting public safety,” Savit said. “Today’s policy makes it far more likely that sex workers will feel comfortable reporting serious crime, and that they will be able to work in conditions that protect their safety and public health.”

To read the full directive, visit washtenaw.org.

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