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Decriminalizing Sex Work: A Closer Look

Our guest, Ariela Moscowitz, sheds light on how the current laws around sex work are based on misconceptions, and explains why decriminalization is crucial to better protecting human rights for all.

Dear friends and neighbors,

I'm pleased to welcome Ariela Moscowitz, Communications Director at Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW). DSW is a national organization pursuing the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work state by state. By working with local advocates and lobbying legislators, DSW aims to end human trafficking, improve public health, and promote community safety through decriminalization. As Moscowitz notes, decriminalization could also help destigmatize sex work and allow consenting adults to pursue it proudly and openly.

You can listen to the audio here, or subscribe to read the transcript below.

Mind Body Health & Politics
Decriminalize Sex Work – Ariela Moscowitz
Listen now (56 min) | Sex work is a complex and multifaceted topic that is often surrounded by stigma and misconceptions. For many people, the idea of selling sex is morally reprehensible, and they believe that it should be illegal. However, there is a growing movement that argues that current laws often do more harm than good. Our guest, Ariela Moscowitz, is a passionate ad…
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Further Reading:


*Lightly edited for clarity

About the organization Decriminalize Sex Work

Dr. Richard L. Miller (03:07): So what can you tell us about your organization? Take it from the top.

Ariela Moscowitz (03:14): Our organization works to decriminalize consensual adult sex work and reduce the stigma around all forms of sex work, whether legal or illegal. As you noted, we were inspired by pioneers in this movement like Carol Lee and Margo St. James, who were friends of yours. "Sex work" is an umbrella term for various forms of sexual labor. Some types, like porn, stripping, and camming, are legal but still stigmatized. We aim to address this. Prostitution is the only illegal and criminalized form of sex work in the country. Though "prostitution" is the legal term for exchanging money or goods for sexual acts, it is not a term we prefer.

Dr. Richard L. Miller (04:38): No, I like it when you go on. Please continue. I'm interested in everything you're saying.

Ariela Moscowitz (04:43): Great. So I guess I'll tell you a little bit more about what we've been doing. DSW was founded mid-2018 almost in response to a new set of laws that were developed purportedly to fight trafficking online, commonly referred to as the SESTA/FOSTA Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. One was the House version, one was the Senate version. What these laws were supposed to do was basically what they did: criminalize trafficking and fight against it. This was a solution in search of a problem because trafficking online was already being handled in a lot of ways; by various websites and by law enforcement. Actually, before these laws were passed, a lot of law enforcement agencies came out against them to say that this would actually make our investigations into trafficking where and when it's actually occurring much harder.

I guess just a brief overview: the incidence of trafficking into adult entertainment is much lower than what we hear in the media, and a lot of organizations would like us to believe. Of course, when and where it happens, it's a horrific human rights abuse, but a lot of folks combine human trafficking with consensual adult sex work, as do our laws, which creates a lot of issues.

So, SESTA/FOSTA, what it essentially did was it suspended Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which basically stated that platforms would not be liable for posts and language that their users posted. So you could go on Craigslist, under the "Erotic Services" section, and post your ad as an escort, and Craigslist wouldn't have anything to do with that.

But if there is an instance of trafficking or anything that violates the terms set by SESTA/FOSTA (which currently faces a number of legal challenges, including one that we are a part of), it is possible that the law could be deemed unconstitutional due to its vague terms. No reasonable person can understand if they are breaking the law or not when trying to follow them. So...

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Richard L. Miller