An advocacy group based in San Francisco has filed a lawsuit against California attorney general Kamala Harris and other Bay Area district attorneys with the claim that the current law criminalizing prostitution is unconstitutional. The group, Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project is advocating for prostitution to become a legal practice in the state of California. ESPLERP claims that the anti-prostitution law that was put in effect in 1961 violates the first and fourteenth amendment of sex workers and should be repealed.
Momentum for the lawsuit picked up in 2008 after Proposition K, a proposal to decriminalize prostitution, failed to pass. Since the lawsuit has been filed on March 4, 2015, plaintiffs have been testifying anonymously, indicating how the criminalization of sex work is a violation of their right to privacy.
The Foghorn staff agrees that decriminalizing prostitution in California gives rights to sex workers and would also have a positive impact on socio-cultural conversation surrounding the sex industry. There is a lot of stigma surrounding prostitution, but if the men and women involved in the industry are willing and consenting, they should be allowed to practice their profession.
A particular distinction that needs to be made among those involved in the sex industry is between people who are consenting sex workers and those who are victims of sex trafficking. The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the highest incidences of human trafficking in the United States according to national sex trafficking researcher Donna Hughes from the University of Rhode Island. Legalizing the industry would allow for government regulation of the profession and a safer environment for sex workers. Regulations would include sexually transmitted disease screenings for sex workers, allow for increased accessibility to condoms and other contraceptives, and the decriminalization of a longstanding profession.
If California were to legalize prostitution, it would not be the first state to do so. Currently, the state of Nevada is the only U.S. state that has legalized prostitution. According to Business Insider, prostitutes have access to weekly screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and monthly screenings for human immunodeficiency virus since the legalization of their profession. Condoms have been mandatory for all forms of intercourse since 1988 and no sex worker has tested positive for HIV since 1986. Nevada serves as a prime example of how the decriminalization and regulation of prostitution has allowed for a safer sex industry.
The decriminalization of sex workers helps alleviate the problem of overcrowded prisons. According to nonprofit public charity, ProCon.org, California had the highest number of prostitution-related arrests of any U.S. state, with 11,334 arrests in 2010. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world according to the Population Reference Bureau and this would leave room in prisons for convicts in need of reform and rehabilitation.
Legalized or not, sex work is referred to as the world’s oldest profession, and it will always continue to exist. The Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project succeeding in their movement for legalization will help create a safer environment for prostitutes and other sex workers.