By Katherine Beck Johnson, Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies
The D.C. Council held a hearing last Thursday for the community to comment on a bill that would decriminalize the buying and selling of sex in the nation's capital. In addition, the bill would remove prison terms and fines for owning and operating a brothel. Family Research Council attended the hearing and testified against this dangerous and concerning bill.
As Patrina Mosley, FRC's Director of Life, Culture and Women's Advocacy, pointed out in her written testimony, "empowering the business of exploitation doesn't protect anyone except the exploiters." Rather than empower women, this legislation would remove legal penalties for pimps who sell women and men who buy them. As Patrina stated, "[l]egitimizing the buying and selling of human beings only makes it easier for pimps and traffickers to groom vulnerable women, boys, and girls into thinking that sexual violence is normal and acceptable." The many survivors of sex trafficking are the first to observe that they feel powerless, rather than powerful, when they are being sold and used for their bodies.
Along with FRC's Laura Grossberndt, I was able to witness the radical arguments of those pushing decriminalization at the hearing firsthand. We saw sex trafficking survivors minimized and marginalized, and Christians mocked for speaking up in defense of these women. Sharing about this experience on Washington Watch, I explained the impact this bill would have on women and children -- including the 20 percent increase in the demand for sex if prostitution were decriminalized. In order to fill in the demand the pimps will prey on the most vulnerable. Thus, this bill would lead to the trafficking of minors to satisfy the higher demands of sex. I shared that although proponents of this bill claim that it will assist women to leave prostitution, in reality this bill doesn't do anything to assist women. Rather, it attempts to legitimize the buying and selling of humans.
At the hearing, one pastor asked a simple but powerful question: "How did we get here?" He talked about the horrendous stain from our country's history of slavery and asked how we were once again debating whether people could sell other humans. Janet Rodriguez, a survivor, testified that it is impossible to separate prostitution from sex trafficking. Another survivor shared the story of a time where she watched a woman next to her be shot and killed. The blood was cleaned, and she was told to get back to her work. The survivor shared that although she thought it was her choice to be in this "business" she really was there because she felt that she had no other choices. The detailed and horrific descriptions of the inside world of sex trafficking and prostitution are exactly why it should never be decriminalized. Decriminalization sends a powerful moral message that this behavior is okay -- when it is anything but.
The testimonies of dozens of survivors provided a powerful insight at the hearing into what life is truly like for women who live their lives being sold for sex. It is anything but empowering. It is very rarely their choice and never their dream. D.C., nor any other city, should not believe and perpetrate the myth that women are empowered when their bodies are sold for sex. Our laws should recognize the inherent dignity and worth of every person -- not enable sexual exploitation.