Today 55 survivors, all whom had been sold and exploited in Nevada unified their voices to tell the Washington D.C. City Council they wholeheartedly disagree with fully decriminalizing the sex trade. Their words below describe the horrendous results of having lived and been exploited in a state where a legal sex trade exists.
Dear Chairman Allen and Members of the Committee:
We, the undersigned are survivors of the commercial sex trade in the state of Nevada. We have written this letter in opposition to the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019. Nevada is the one place in the country that has implemented something similar to what D.C. is proposing to do; however, what Washington, D.C. aims to do with decriminalization is actually worse than legalization. Many in our state also believed legalizing prostitution would help make it safer. That has not been the case for survivors of the legal sex trade. Nevada’s legal prostitution has rolled out the red carpet for sex buyers from all over the world. Traffickers use many avenues to sell their victims, including legal brothels. For many of us, that meant being trafficked into and out of Nevada. For others, it meant we were groomed into prostitution simply by being raised in a state where it’s legal.
We hope that our lived experiences and voices will be taken into consideration coming from a state where the buying and selling of sex has become normalized. The women who have shared their experiences here represent many others in the legal sex trade who are not yet free to speak their minds. We fully understand the unintended consequences when the buying of sex is normalized and prostitution is treated like a job. The verbal, physical and sexual abuse is always minimized as a result of legalization. Numerous studies show that between 70 and 90 percent of children and women who end up in the commercial sex trade were sexually abused prior to entry. There is no other industry that is dependent upon a regular supply of victims of trauma and abuse. Prostitution is not like any other “job”; this experience is often times full of violence, trauma and pain and not one that the women or children can simply walk away from without serious danger.
Many of us couldn’t keep count of how many times we were assaulted and too scared to fight back. To cope with the rapes, physical assaults, verbal degradation and the humiliation of prostitution, the majority of us abused drugs. Treating prostitution as a job like any other only leads the “customer” to believe he is always right and can get away with any fantasy he desires. Sexual assault is only one of those fantasies. For those of us of color, it was fantasies of racism. We can’t count the number of times we were called a racial slur. Racism from sex buyers is commonplace. Many of our sisters have committed suicide from the trauma we endure in prostitution. Decriminalization will only make this worse.
Legalized prostitution has increased the market for commercial sex in our community; this increase benefits criminal enterprises that profit from sex trafficking. Your community will become a playground for men to live out their fantasies, just like ours has. Please understand that just because the sex was paid for does not mean it was consensual. Passing this bill will hurt the very people you are claiming you want to protect.
Many supporters of the bill testified about harsh treatment by law enforcement. Let’s put serious effort and funding into training law enforcement officers to respectfully help the victims, add accountability measures for those who act out of line and violate women and children and punish the criminals: the pimps and buyers.
We ask that you listen to survivors; pimping and buying sex are behaviors that should not be encouraged or tolerated. The premise of decriminalization and legalization is wrong. Legalization has given men who buy sex permission to be degrading, harmful and violent to women. Full decriminalization does not make prostitution safer. Being bought for sex is not harmful because its’ illegal, it is illegal because it’s harmful. We know firsthand the life-long trauma that occurs from being bought and sold for sex. We urge the committee not to pass the cleverly disguised Community Health and Safety Act of 2019.