Funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, this collaboration between the O’Neill Institute, Whitman-Walker Health, and HIPS, with the Institute as the project lead, explores how sex workers in DC access health care, how they interact with law enforcement, and how laws, policies, and practices designed to disrupt commercial sexual activity impede access to HIV prevention and care services. The purpose of the project is to explore the impact of laws and policies on sex workers’ access to clinical care and social services and recommend potential criminal law and policy reforms to better support sex workers in Washington DC. The project team is conducting focus groups with sex workers and interviews with public health officials and representatives from the DC government and law enforcement to identify barriers to HIV prevention and care and will produce a policy brief capturing major findings and recommendations. Working in partnership with community representatives, partner organizations, and advocates, the project team will use the policy brief to engage DC policymakers and officials to remove barriers and improve access to care for sex workers.
Using data drawn from focus groups with sex workers and interviews with DC government officials, legal experts, and victim services providers, this report sheds light on how prostitution laws and policing practices in DC adversely affect the safety and health of sex workers and the community at large. The report reveals the importance of sex work decriminalization and other reforms for achieving DC’s community safety and public health goals. Recommendations for change include reforming the criminal code of the District of Columbia to eliminate criminal penalties for consensual commercial sexual exchange between adults; increasing access to affordable housing; expanding resources for job training and employment programs; and strengthening efforts to address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) people.
In February 2021, the O’Neill Institute, Whitman-Walker Institute, and HIPS held a virtual event as part of Black History Month. The event focused on sex worker rights as a racial justice issue, the history of sex work policing in DC, and findings and recommendations from the recent report, Improving Laws and Policies to Protect Sex Workers and Promote Health and Wellbeing.
In December of 2020, the O’Neill Institute, Whitman-Walker Institute, and HIPS hosted a virtual event where speakers discussed the findings of a new report, Improving Laws and Policies to Protect Sex Workers and Promote Health and Wellbeing: A Report on Criminalization of Sex Work in the District of Columbia.