DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex


Jacqueline Robarge, Power Inside | jrobarge at powerinside.org (410) 889-8333
Darby Hickey, Best Practices Policy Project | darbyhickey at gmail.com (202) 250-4869
Katherine M Koster, SWOP-USA | katherine at swopusa.org (877) 776-2004

DOJ Report on Baltimore Police Shows Harms of Criminalization of Commercial Sex

Statement from Power Inside, Best Practices Policy Project, and Sex Worker Outreach Project-National (SWOP-USA)

The August 10th U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigative findings on the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) reveals police abuse and misconduct that sex workers have documented for years. According to the DOJ findings, BPD officers “fail to meaningfully investigate reports of sexual assault, particularly for assaults involving women with additional vulnerabilities, such as those who are involved in the sex trade.” In addition to ignoring sexual assault reports, the DOJ reports, officers themselves targeted, raped, and sexually assaulted sex workers, noting that such conduct “is not only criminal, it is an abuse of power.”

The DOJ details the BPD’s sweeping racial bias and unconstitutional practices that include racial profiling, degrading strip searches, excessive force, abusive language, and erroneous arrests. According to the report, African American sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are particularly impacted by biased policing and are repeatedly targeted for stops without cause. The DOJ noted that, “BPD’s application of city ordinances banning loitering, trespassing, and failing to obey an officer’s order violates the Fourteenth Amendment.” Once stopped, sex workers of color or those perceived as sex workers are treated with a magnified level of disrespect and abuse.

Unfortunately, this mistreatment is not unique to Baltimore. In 2014 at the United Nations review of the U.S. human rights record, sex worker groups presented documentation of widespread human rights abuses in the U.S. against sex workers and those profiled as engaging in commercial sex, including documentation from Baltimore. The documentation presented in 2014 was a follow-up to a 2010 U.S. human rights record review in 2010, when the U.S. Government agreed to address discrimination against sex workers

Despite this longstanding documentation of police abuse of individuals engaged in the sex trade, particularly African American cisgender and transgender women, the U.S. government has taken no steps to address these pervasive human rights violations. Just as the DOJ documented in Baltimore, throughout the country police officers assault and rape sex workers, ignore sexual assault claims brought by people involved in sex work and deliberately fail to investigate these abuses. Police officers also profile people, particularly transgender and cisgender women, as sex workers, stopping and arresting them on scant evidence. This profiling comes as part of the broader racial and gender profiling of African Americans and other people of color documented extensively by DOJ across the country.

These human rights violations are a direct result of criminalization of marginalized communities in general and the criminalization of sex work more specifically. To address them, states and municipalities should work against criminalization in general and towards the decriminalization of drug use and sex work. The federal government should issue guidance on racial and gender profiling, make state and local funding contingent on an end to such practices, and promote policies and practices which stop human rights abuses against people of color, transgender people, sex workers and those profiled as involved in commercial sex.

The crafting of the Baltimore’s DOJ consent decree, and those in other DOJ investigations, must meaningfully include sex workers, LGBT people, and marginalized survivors of violence that have been most impacted by neglectful and unconstitutional practices. Real reform must include robust reforms that are specific to marginalized communities.

Read the U.S. Department of Justice report:


Listen to women in Baltimore describe interactions with the police:

Read reports submitted to the United Nations regarding human rights abuses of sex
workers by police:
2010 report to the Universal Periodic Review

2014 report to the Universal Periodic Review

For more recent documentation of police misconduct against sex workers, see:


Desiree Alliance’s public statement re: Orlando

“Desiree Alliance mourns the loss of so many. There are no losses for words as there’s just too many words that can be said here. We can point fingers but we all know why this happened. The varied reasons that have crossed our minds, why, what, when, how… It has replayed in a thousand different institutional ways from religion to political to gun control to race relations to homo & Trans phobia to terrorism, etc etc etc.Desiree New Logo
I urge all leaders in this fight to rise up and call out your truth. I urge all leaders that have a stake to stand in solidarity with those that did nothing other than share one night in a space that should have been safe. I urge unification among us because it’s not just one thing that’s broken. Our systems are designed to do just what happened in Orlando and we have historically & repeatedly witnessed the horrors that have been created by these designs.
Today, we honor these forced heroes thrust into that role, as not one person would have gone into this knowingly or willingly. These heroes were just looking for one night of relief, to laugh, to dance, to share camaraderie, to love one another, to live another day…”
Cristine Sardina BWS, MSJ
Coordinator, Desiree Alliance

U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists Call for U.N. to Hold U.S. Government Accountable


CONTACTS: Geneva- Monica Jones 602-575-9332, Derek Demeri jdemeri20@gmail.com;

United States- Janet Duran- 973-900-4887, Penelope Saunders- 917-817-0324, penelope.saunders@gmail.com


U.S. Sex Worker Rights Activists Call for U.N. to Hold U.S. Government Accountable

U.N. to Review US Government Human Rights Record on May 11th

Geneva–Representatives of U.S.-based sex worker rights organizations are in Geneva, Switzerland, meeting with members of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), and advocating for greater human rights protections. The HRC will hold its quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the U.S.’ human rights record on May 11th at 9am (3am EST), at the U.N. in Geneva. The UPR is a peer-based review process, through which the human rights record of each member state of the U.N. is subject to scrutiny by fellow governments, which call on other each other to address and end violations of civil, political, economic and social human rights in their own countries.

In advance of the review this year, advocates with Best Practices Policy Project, Desiree Alliance, and Sex Workers Outreach Project-NY submitted a report to the HRC. Written in consultation with sex workers and their allies throughout the country, the report shows that criminalization and stigmatization of sex workers, and those profiled as such, exposes them to rape, extortion, physical violence, harassment, and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Criminalization and stigma can also lead to denial of housing, healthcare, parenting and other reproductive rights, education, incomes, and employment. The report demonstrates that the legal system frequently fails to recognize that sex workers can be victims of violence, and thus denies justice or support to sex workers who seek help.

For Monica Jones, a human rights advocate and transgender woman of color from Phoenix, AZ, the issues she is raising in Geneva have directly impacted her own life. Like many transgender and gender non-conforming people of color, she is threatened by regular harassment by police, who use anti-sex work laws to intimidate and harm members of communities already vulnerable to discrimination. “As long as the police can target my community using these anti-sex work laws,” Ms. Jones notes, “we will never be safe from violence, including the violence of incarceration.”

The UPR of the U.S. comes as major uprisings are sweeping the country in response to persistent police violence and murders of people of color. Sex worker communities, particularly those of color, are all too familiar with the rampant profiling, harassment and violence that police carry out throughout the U.S. Sex worker rights advocates in Geneva are in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement and other similar racial justice movements that seek to end police brutality. “We refuse to be silenced when the criminalization and stigmatization of our communities means our voices and existence don’t matter to those who hold power,” said Derek Demeri, a member of the New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, who is in Geneva. Demeri pointed out that one of the many detrimental effects of stigma and criminalization is increased risk to sex workers’ health and wellbeing. “The U.S. is obligated to uphold the right to health under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet municipalities criminalize possession of condoms, jeopardizing the health of sex workers and other communities and placing them at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections,” he said.


Washington, D.C. passes bill to repeal discredited “Prostitution Free Zones”

On October 7, 2014, the District of Columbia Council voted on a bill to repeal the District’s “Prostitution Free Zones” law as well as the “Drug Free Zones” law that it was based on. After an initial unanimous vote, the Council revisited the topic at the request of Councilmember Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) who claimed that the Prostitution Free Zones (PFZs) were an important tool to address concerns about sex work in neighborhoods she represents, despite testimony from police that the PFZs have not been used for over two years. “The Prostitution Free Zones have had a major impact on prostitution,” said Councilmember Alexander. The Metropolitan Police Department had stated at previous hearings that police were no longer using the law due to the concerns about its constitutionality as well as lack of evidence that the PFZs were effective in reducing street-based sex work in areas where the zones were declared. While acknowledging the constitutional concerns regarding the PFZs, Councilmember Alexander asked her colleagues to vote against repeal on the grounds that she felt there are reasons to implement the zones.

The D.C. Council passed the law authorizing police to declare PFZs in 2006 over objections from community members who said the zones would legitimize long-standing discriminatory police practices. Community-based research by the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. revealed the negative effects of D.C.’s approach to sex work, and a more recent review of police-community relations by the MPD-appointed Hate Crimes Response Task Force found high levels of distrust of police among transgender communities in the city, due to patterns of discrimination and abuse. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the bill to repeal the PFZs in response to the Task Force report and accompanying recommendations by community groups.

Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) pointed out that the zones are not being used by the police, and that to say to constituents that the zones would help address prostitution would be a false statement. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) asked why Councilmember Wells wanted to repeal the law, “Why do you want to repeal this? We have a lot of laws that we don’t use, why do you want to remove this one?” Councilmember Wells pointed out how the PFZs discriminate against trans communities or people based on what they are wearing and being with two people or more. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Chairman of the Council, Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman), claimed that the PFZs were effective, but that the law must be repealed because of the constitutional concerns. “As much as some of us would like for them to come back,” said Chairman Mendelson, “because I think there was value in the police using it to disrupt prostitution markets, it cannot be used. It is unconstitutional.” But Councilmember Grosso noted that the constitutional concerns are not the only reason for repeal. “This is also about human rights in the District of Columbia,” said Grosso. “These zones were used not necessarily to address prostitution or sex work, but to discriminate against people walking down the street that we didn’t want walking down the street.”

After a period of debate which rehashed stigmatizing arguments regarding sex work, the Council voted 10-2 to repeal the Prostitution Free Zones law. All laws under consideration by the full Council must be voted on twice–a second vote on the bill will be taken on October 28th, but in light of the vote tally, it is likely to pass. Although a largely symbolic gesture, since the police have already acknowledged not using the zones for the past two years and no plans to use them in the future, the debate over the bill shows the importance of removing laws targeting sex workers, and those profiled as such, for increased criminalization. Best Practices Policy Project, which assisted the Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. in its community-based research in 2007 and 2008, applauds this step forward for D.C. and encourages the D.C. Council to consider implementing other recommendations from that report.