Tomorrow in DC we will be delivering testimony, reprinted below, in opposition to Bill 19-567, a proposed new law that would allow police to designate permanent Prostitution-Free Zones (PFZs), which have been dubbed by local activists as Trans Profiling Zones.
If you cannot attend tomorrow, you can watch online.
In any case, in the coming two weeks, please join us by signing the change.org petition. Each time someone signs, the DC Council gets email notice. We want to deluge these officials’ in boxes and make sure that this legislation is never passed, and that even our current temporary PFZs disappear in the waste bin of stupid ideas.
Prostitution is illegal, but PFZs, temporary as they are now or permanent, constitute legalized sex discrimination and a direct challenge to civil rights. Any discussion of PFZs is, therefore, part of a larger discourse on human rights.
As others will attest tomorrow, the establishment or continuation of PFZs is clearly unconstitutional, ignoring due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, so any law making them permanent will be subject to unending legal challenges costing our city hundreds of thousands of tax dollars defending a foolish law.
Putting the question of constitutionality aside for the moment, however, these PFZs are a menace to public safety by creating “papers please” profiling zones threatening people in the neighborhoods where they wish to live and work in peace. Police haven’t curbed prostitution or decreased crime that is imagined to be associated with prostitution, just relocated most of these activities to outlying neighborhoods away from downtown.
All residents and visitors to our nation’s capital have the right to be free from unwelcomed, coerced encounters with police, and the harassment that ensues during such forced encounters. Because most if not all of these coercive encounters have been shown to be biased, based entirely on the personal judgments and viewpoints of the police officer/s, rather than extant police procedures and special orders and human rights laws in the District of Columbia. Many of these unsolicited encounters with cross-purposes result in unwarranted arrests, further harassment, mistreatment by the police while incarcerated, and sometimes injury or even death.
DC government has the opportunity to step back and consider that the path of the PFZs is not only a losing proposition, it goes against the very principles of existing local laws and the very integrity of those who serve the Council. Rather then roiling ‘red meat’ for a small group of noisy busybodies in select neighborhoods, so as not to ‘appear’ as favoring prostitution, lawmakers should instead focus their attention on finding systemic and sustainable solutions that offer better employment options to this most vulnerable class of people, often forced through economic necessity to seek sex work for their very survival.
VenusPlusX’s testimony, prepared by Dan Massey, points to a future where sex workers are not victims of police overreach such as these PFZs. Here it is:
A Statement Opposing Establishment of Permanent Prostitution-Free Zones in the District of Columbia
You are today considering legislation that would create permanent “prostitution- free zones” (PPFZs) in certain areas of the city. I strongly urge that the Council table this matter for the time being and instead initiate a combined government and community-based effort, emphasizing transparency and harmony, to effectively address the real underlying problem which the PPFZ proposal fails to address.
There is little to gain in enacting laws that sound responsible to a vocal minority in the community, but which depend solely on the government to deploy violence against fellow citizens. Such laws deserve only ridicule when examined in the light of reason.
Sex workers provide an important function in society by filling a market need that cannot be eliminated, since it comes about through the choices and desires of the individual members of the population as a whole.
Criminalization of sex work simply forces sex workers to practice their profession at times and places where they can be free from police observation, while remaining accessible to their clientele.
Unfortunately, this means the solicitation and delivery of services will most often occur at times and in areas of the city where the participants will necessarily be more vulnerable to crimes of violence because of reduced police oversight.
At this time, I am not suggesting that the Council immediately de-criminalize and regulate sex work. Rather, I want each of you to honestly examine how much better it would be for the city to establish “Prostitution Zones” (PZs), under police protection. in which sex work is legal, licensed, and medically supervised.
Such zones would become havens for legal, socially beneficial sexual healing, and create opportunities for sex worker cooperatives to emerge, owning real estate and paying license fees and property taxes.
At the same time, with the establishment of such centers of expertise, open sex trade would be drawn away from unaccepting areas of the community, to everyone’s satisfaction.
At the moment, such a change in the underlying approach to prostitution in the city would be misunderstood and misinterpreted by many who hold strong opinions, simply because they have not yet actually been engaged in a rational discussion of alternatives and choices.
The Council can show it supports a rational approach by providing a public forum charged to find systemic and sustainable solutions for the District’s challenges in this area. Its current course in considering establishment of PPFZs will only complicate matters further, since court challenges based on considerable precedents in other locales are inevitable.
This forum should be established with a view towards providing the same respect, rights, and safety that all District residents desire from our society and our government, and should draw on community resources advocating every possible viewpoint and attitude, while providing full transparency in the decision-making process.
The outcome of such a discussion would be broad public education on the challenges of governing a modern city, the emergence of agreement on common goals and purposes, and anticipation of the benefits of agreed changes.
Such results would be visible through the reduction in crimes of violence, especially those motivated by racial and sexual hatred, as well as improvements in the health of all District residents.
At present, many people find themselves trapped into sex work by economic situations, many of which arise directly from social prejudice, hiring biases, and unfounded presumptions.
In this respect, I applaud the work of Project Empowement, which is demonstrating the fallacy of social prejudice. The ongoing effort to help our local LGBT youth gang find a constructive outlet for their commitment and energy also deserves recognition.
To summarize, I am advocating that the Council, working with MPD and the Mayor’s Office, begin to support and listen to an emerging discussion that would educate the entire DC community in wholesome ways to address the serious social problem created by public misunderstanding of legitimate, morally responsible services.
On a closely related subject:
Law enforcement management is maturing technically in many US cities. In 2009, the National Institute of Justice funded a Phase 1 trial of Predictive Policing in seven cities, including Washington, DC. I have seen no published report from this work; however, Shreveport and Chicago have received grants of $0.5M and $1.5M, respectively, to implement Phase 2 of their plans.
Building on earlier successes in Los Angeles, Memphis, and Richmond, Predictive Policing involves the collection and analysis of large bodies of data about crime times, locations, conditions, victims, methods, etc., as well as detailed environmental data about the organization of the city and its infrastructure.
Results help identify and pinpoint places, times, and conditions conducive to crime. Often, they identify environment, infrastructure, and organization that leads to the emergence of these “hot spots.” In Memphis, for example, the incidence of public rape, assault, and theft was significantly reduced simply by shifting the locations of public pay phones that were shown to be “hot spots” from street locations to the interiors of businesses open 24×7.
It is clear that legislation that criminalizes prostitution and then, having given up on fair enforcement of the original law, seeks to occasionally apply it more forcefully and arbitrarily in specific areas, is itself responsible for the formation of “hot spots” for serious criminal activity.
Making these zones permanent is merely another step backwards into a system of regulation that, like the proverbial ostrich, hides its head in the sand.
I urge Council members concerned about crime prevention in DC to examine some of the reference material on Preventive Policing cited in the attached References.
I firmly believe that, if the city will openly and honestly examine these issues, free from unreasoned prejudice, it will be possible to reform our practices in a way that can be a light to the entire nation.
The time has come for our city to take steps that will surely lead to the achievement of full civil liberty and freedom under a system of laws that fully represents to the nation and the world our highest ideals of excellence in law and government.
Let us again proclaim to the world that the District of Columbia aspires to be a shining example of full liberty and freedom for all, as was demonstrated in the establishment of Civil Marriage Equality in 2010 and many prior victories for human rights.
The Deparment of Pre-Crime. James Vlahos in Scientific American, Vol. 306, No. 1, pages 62-67, January 2012.
Self-Exciting Point Processes Modeling of Crime. G. O. Mohler, M. B. Short. P. J. Brantingham, F. P. Schoenberg, and G. E. Tita in Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 106, No. 473, pages 100-108, 2011.
How New York Beat Crime. Franklin E. Zimring in Scientific American, Vol. 305, No. 2, pages 74-79, August 2011.
Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports: www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr.
Scientific American Online: www.ScientificAmrican.com/jan2012/precrime