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Providence City Council sends resolution in support of sex work study commission to committee



Providence City Councilors Katherine Kerwin (Ward 12) and Rachel Miller(Ward 13) introduced a resolution to the Providence City Council last night in support of House Bill H5354, currently before the Rhode Island House of Representatives, that would establish a commission to study the health and safety impact of revising current Rhode Island law around commercial sexual activity.

Instead of moving to vote on the resolution, City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) sent it to the Committee on State Legislative Affairs. The resolution is unlikely to resurface anytime soon, since the next meeting of the Committee on State Legislative Affairs is scheduled for 12am, December 31, 2019. (Not a typo). The Committee did not meet at all in 2018, the last meeting of the Committee was in May of 2017, and all 2016 meetings of the Committee were cancelled. Currently the committee has no Chair.

The sex work commission under consideration in the House legislation is supported by COYOTE RI, a sex worker advocacy group.

“I got involved with COYOTE just last December when the Foxy Lady club, that’s really in the heart of Ward 12, got shut down, really out of nowhere, just days before Christmas, and many women lost their jobs, right before the holidays. It was really disturbing,” explained Kerwin. “I got involved because there was so much media around it and many of my constituents were reaching out.

“There was so much attention around the Foxy Lady closing because the majority of the dancers at the Foxy lady are white… The reality is that many sex workers are women of color, they are low-income women, they are trans women.

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“We don’t hear a lot about this issue because the feminist movement, which is largely driven by white feminists, has rallied around issues like reproductive health care, making sure we codify Roe v Wade, and I firmly believe that the future of the feminist movement… is on issues like sex work and supporting sex workers and supporting the low-income women, women of color and trans women in this industry.

“So as a feminist, as a policy maker, as a woman who represents a low-income neighborhood, this issue is really important to me.”

Providence City Councilor Helen Anthony (Ward 2) asked her fellow city council members to not send the resolution to the committee. “We wouldn’t we do [this]?” asked Anthony. “It’s just asking to create a study.”

City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) also rose in support of the resolution. “It’s important that we have appropriate data so our state legislators can make policy that makes sense.”

After the City Council meeting I talked to Bella Robinson, executive director of COYOTE RI. Though she was disappointed that the resolution did not pass, she said that she knew that convincing legislators that this issue was important would take time and continued advocacy.

Here’s the resolution:

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.