Providence City Council pushes for state study of sex workers

Providence
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council passed a resolution Thursday calling for state lawmakers to create a legislative commission to study marginalized Rhode Islanders, including sex workers.

“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,” Ward 12 Councilwoman Kat Kerwin said.

The bill, H-5250, was introduced in January. It was recommended held for study by the House Health and Human Services Committee in February.

The bill would create a 13-member commission, including delegates from the Department of Health and law enforcement, which would study how to revise laws related to commercial sexual activity and identify methods of human trafficking in order to reduce trafficking. As it stands, the commission’s report would be due by May 31, 2022.

A local group that advocates for sex workers known as COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) has endorsed previous efforts. Rep. Anastasia Williams, one of the sponsors of this year’s bill, was part of a similar proposal being introduced in 2019.

In a study of Rhode Island sex work conducted by COYOTE and researchers at Brown University, cited by the council, 77% of respondents said they’d never tried reporting a crime while working in the sex industry, while 27% said they didn’t think the police would do anything. Of workers who did file a report, 4% were arrested while trying to report a crime.

“Criminalization creates the perfect playground for bad actors and police to prey on sex workers with impunity,” said Bella Robinson of COYOTE.

The council’s resolution was co-sponsored by Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13), and Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1). It passed Thursday by voice vote.

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