Protect D.C.'s Vulnerable Communities from Human Trafficking


On October 17, the D.C. City Council will hold a hearing on legislation that decriminalizes pimping, brothel-keeping, and sex buying in our city.  Doing so will give sex traffickers a stronger hand to operate with impunity and put even more vulnerable people at risk of being tricked, coerced, or forced into the sex trade. We can’t let this happen.

There are better ways to protect the rights of vulnerable people in our city, including transgender people and communities of color that have often been the target of discriminatory criminalization policies and practices. Specifically, we strongly support decriminalizing people in prostitution - the actual direct sellers. Criminalizing these people only makes it more difficult for them to exit the sex trade if they so choose, whether or not they are victims of trafficking. We believe people should have that choice. 

More information about the Community Health and Safety Amendment Act of 2019:

  • Research suggests that up to 20 percent more men would be open to buying sex than do currently if it were not against the law. Common sense suggests it is unlikely that there are a corresponding 20 percent more people who would choose to sell themselves in prostitution if only it were legal to do so. That creates a significant market imbalance between people looking to buy sex and people willingly selling sex. Human traffickers will step in to make up the difference by preying on some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society. 

  • The bill allows for pimping of people as young as 18 as long as the pimping agreement is entered into “freely and voluntarily.” The idea that vulnerable people are protected by this “voluntarily and freely” language fundamentally misunderstands human trafficking. Sex traffickers commonly manipulate vulnerable people into feeling loved. Then they warp, twist and threaten that love and sense of belonging so expertly that for a time, at least, their victims sometimes believe themselves to be acting freely and voluntarily, when in fact, they have been subject to fraud and coercion - the elements of trafficking.

  • If brothels are decriminalized, law enforcement will have fewer tools to detect when and where sex trafficking is happening. Increasingly in D.C., frontline service providers report that the trend in sex trafficking has been holding children in residential brothels and bringing customers to them rather than putting them out on the street. This will be one less chance for these children to get away from their traffickers.