PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A special legislative commission met Monday afternoon to discuss whether sex work should be decriminalized in Rhode Island.
Advocates argue that sex work, when consensual, should not be punished.
“If they’re consenting adults who are engaged in sex work, that should be something we allow them to do,” Justice Gaines, a member of the commission said.
Melissa Broudo of the national organization “Decriminalize Sex Work” outlined the differences between sex work and sex trafficking.
“I think when we conflate the two, we end up making bad policy, right?” Broudo said. “Either everyone’s a criminal or everyone’s a victim.”
Broudo believes decriminalizing sex work will make it safer for those who participate in it.
“[It would] remove criminal penalties from both the worker and the client so that we can better find exploitation, people can access and augment their health and safety, utilize condoms, have safety negotiations with clients … bring it into the open so people can access their rights,” she explained. “When you decriminalize also the client side, that allows better negotiation between sex workers and clients.”
But those who are against the idea argue that the lines between whether the sex is consensual or not can easily be blurred.
“Prostitution is not work,” Robin Levasseur tells 12 News. “It shouldn’t be work.”
Levasseur is a former sex worker turned victim advocate for “Together With Love.” She believes the decriminalization of sex work will only make it more dangerous.
“Every pimp, every perpetrator and every monster is going to come out and set up right here in Rhode Island,” she explained. “How do you draw the line on the girls that are forced into this? Or girls that are being trafficked or manipulated?”
Cindy Zulker, executive director of “Together With Love,” suggested a partial decriminalization instead.
“So the people that are perpetrating, the traffickers and the buyers, are the ones that pay the price,” Zulker said.
While the commission, led by Reps. Anastasia Williams and Edith Ajello, is only tasked with making recommendations on revising the state’s prostitution laws, the fact that it’s even a discussion makes victim advocates like Levasseur worried sick.
“It’s shocking,” she said. “People don’t want to believe that it’s right here in our neighborhoods, but it is.”
The commission plans to meet again next month on the topic, and they aren’t required to submit their findings for at least another year.