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Washington, D. To those new to the issue, the marathon session was likely overwhelming, as it was to sex workers who were watching others debate their lives. As coverage at DCist and The Washington Post noted, those for and against the bill all claimed to want to protect sex workers. The campaign to support this full decriminalization bill, DecrimNow DC, was created by sex workers, with black and trans sex workers the most visible public speakers and leaders.
The communities they represent have all faced police indifference, harassment, and abuse—even death. At least 22 trans women have been killed nationwide so far this year, the majority of them black women. Advocates say that many of the trans women killed each year were sex workers. According to a survey , 40 percent of all black trans people have traded sex for money, and trans women overall were twice as likely to have done sex work than trans men. Over the last twenty years, some of these anti-prostitution groups, both secular-feminist and religious-conservative, have responded to decriminalization efforts by conflating sex work with human trafficking , and insisting decriminalization will increase trafficking.
In both cases, the law becomes a tool for bending women into more acceptable positions. In Washington last week, sex workers testified to the more mundane reality of harm and violence they personally face: homelessness, anti-trans bias, fear of calling for help with an overdose, fear of reporting sexual assault because of police harassment.
Few opposing the bill appeared to have any experience as sex workers. Instead, they invoked traffickers who were rumored to be sighted roaming middle schools.
Sex workers who testified sat through hours of graphic descriptions of what some outsiders believe sex work is like.