Labor & Business

PVD City Council endorses sex work criminalization study commission

“The reality is, legalized or not, sex work continues to exist in Rhode Island and without regulation and research, people who engage in sex work, particularly women, are left without a safe network to report assaults or other issues that may arise from the job,” said Councilmember Kat Kerwin. “I hope the State will consider passing this bill with the full support of the Providence City Council.”
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Published on May 12, 2021
By Uprise RI

The Providence City Council on Thursday passed a resolution endorsing and urging the passage of Representative Anastasia WilliamsHouse Resolution 5250, creating a special legislative commission to study ensuring racial equity and optimizing health and safety laws affecting marginalized individuals. This commission would specifically work to examine sex workers in the State of Rhode Island and their access to vital health, safety and legal resources.

See: Sex workers fight for Study Commission to examine criminalization of sex work in Rhode Island

The Council resolution was introduced by Councilmember Kat Kerwin (Ward 12) and co-sponsored by councilmember Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Rachel Miller (Ward 13) and John Goncalves (Ward 1).

“I am proud to support COYOTE RI and all the advocates who are working tirelessly to pass good policy that would provide our State with information on the impacts of the sex industry,” said Councilmember Kerwin. “The reality is, legalized or not, sex work continues to exist in Rhode Island and without regulation and research, people who engage in sex work, particularly women, are left without a safe network to report assaults or other issues that may arise from the job. I hope the State will consider passing this bill with the full support of the Providence City Council.”

In a Rhode Island sex work study conducted by COYOTE RI and Brown University, 77% of respondents reported they had never tried reporting a crime while working in the sex industry and, of this group, 27% did not report because they did not think the police would do anything, while 32% did not report because they did not want to draw attention to themselves. For workers that did file a report, four percent were arrested while trying to report a crime, and 26% reported being threatened by the police when trying to file a report.

“We need to re-examine how laws around commercial sex are harming the people they are supposed to protect. Criminalization creates the perfect playground for bad actors and police to prey on sex workers with impunity,” said Bella Robinson, executive director of COYOTE RI.

An analysis of 134 studies spanning 30 years found that sex workers in decriminalized contexts were less likely to experience physical or sexual violence from clients and were less likely to contract HIV or sexually transmitted infections. The analysis additionally found that repressive policing of sex workers, their clients, and/or sex work venues disrupted sex workers’ work environments, support networks, safety and risk reduction strategies, and access to health services and justice.

Copies of the Council’s resolution in support of HB 5250 will be sent to the Providence delegation in the Rhode Island House and Senate and the Honorable Speaker of the House.

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