NCTE Backs Challenges to Prostitution Laws and Their Discriminatory Enforcement
Earlier this month, NCTE applauded the filing of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New York’s extremely vague “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” law. The law allows police to take issue with a person’s clothing or appearance—such as wearing a “short” dress or “tight” pants—and then decide whether that person intends to engage in commercial sex work and arrest them. The suit aims to show the court how in addition to being unconstitutional on its face, that this law, for decades, has been continuously deployed as a tool to profile, harass, and violate the civil liberties of women of color, including many transgender women. Legal Aid and other local organizations report many women being afraid to leave their homes, walk around their neighborhoods, or carry condoms because of the law and NYPD’s tactics. Similar laws have been used across the country by police departments and have shown officers engaging in broad sweeps of transgender women of color, in a process often referred to by many trans women as “walking while trans.”
In announcing the New York suit, the Legal Aid Society quoted NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling saying: “This case highlights the profiling and harassment that transgender women of color across our country have been dealing with for far too long. These unconstitutional laws target some of our most vulnerable community members and erode trust in law enforcement by giving police too much discretion to determine who is allowed to be on the street, where, when, and what they’re allowed to wear without risking arrest.”
This week, NCTE was also pleased to join other transgender, LGBT, women’s, and people of color organizations in supporting another lawsuit directly challenging California’s laws criminalizing sex work on the grounds that it unconstitutionally interferes with personal and private decisions about sex.
NCTE joined a friend-of-the-court brief, led by the ACLU, which was filed with the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court. The brief also argues that laws criminalizing sex work have a long history of discriminatory enforcement against women of color and LGBT people, and particularly against transgender women of color. Another brief in the case from LGBT and HIV organizations argues that criminalizing sex work makes it much harder to prevent and treat HIV and other infections and increases the danger of violence facing sex workers.
These recent lawsuits represent a growing opposing to the criminalization of sex worker and those assumed to be sex workers. Like many other LGBT, HIV, and human rights organizations nationally and worldwide, NCTE supports the full decriminalization of sex work. Decriminalization is one of the most important steps we can take to protect the safety, health, and rights of sex workers, to fight HIV and human trafficking, and to protect public health.
In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 11% of transgender respondents, 33% of transgender Latinxs, and 40% of Black transgender people reported having ever done sex work, and these respondents reported facing high rates of employment and housing discrimination. Among our findings, we found that among sex workers 64% reported mistreatment by the police, as well as physical 13%, and sexual assault 9.2%. It’s past time to revisit our laws and ensure they protect people in vulnerable situations rather than exacerbating them.