Tag: Maryland

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:


Ill-informed legislation under consideration in Maryland

BREAKING 11:45am, March 25, 2015: We just learned that the Senate Bill has been withdrawn and the hearing cancelled. This is a great victory for human rights!

While lawmakers at the federal level are battling over a largely bad piece of legislation allegedly meant to address human trafficking, a proposal in Maryland to increase criminal penalties related to trafficking and prostitution will have a hearing on March 25. In the name of making human trafficking-related crimes felonies rather than misdemeanors, the Maryland Senate will hear testimony on Senate Bill 904. This is the counterpart to House Bill 241, which had a hearing last month. Aside from the fact that a criminalization approach is not effective in addressing coercion or exploitation, Maryland’s human trafficking law is even more problematic than many others. In 2007 lawmakers essentially amended the state’s pandering laws and renamed them “human trafficking” laws–meaning that human trafficking in Maryland only covers force, fraud and coercion in the sex sector, and trafficking in any other sector is not covered.

The proposed law would make the following, among others, into felony crimes:

  • take or cause another to be taken to any place for prostitution
  • place, cause to be placed, or harbor another in any place for prostitution
  • persuade, induce, entice, or encourage another to be taken to or placed in any place for prostitution

As noted by advocates like Power Inside who are speaking out against these bills (as well as those who have spoken out against similar legislation in other parts of the country) such a law would increase dramatically the criminal penalties associated with important harm reduction practices such as sex workers working together. A friend giving a ride to a sex worker, a boyfriend or a girlfriend acting as a lookout when a sex worker takes a date, or an older sex worker giving advice to a younger sex worker could all be liable for felony crimes under such a law, which would include up to 25 years in jail, a $15,000 fine, and no possibility to expunge the conviction.

If Maryland lawmakers are truly interested in helping people who experience force, fraud or coercion in the course of their work, whether in the sex sector, domestic labor, agricultural sector, or elsewhere, they should revise the law to properly define human trafficking. Even more importantly, they should focus on structural reforms that would make people less vulnerable to exploitation, such as increasing labor protections, raising the minimum wage, ensuring a strong social safety newt, promoting worker organizing among migrants and other vulnerable groups, and removing criminal laws associated with sex work.

Power Inside, Best Practices Policy Project, Sex Worker Project, and other groups are sending the letter below to the Maryland Senate and General Assembly encouraging them to table this bill and reconsider their approach.

TO: The Hon. Bobby Zirkin, Chair, and members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee; Hon. Joseph Vallario, Jr., Chair, and members of the House Judiciary Committee

FROM: The Undersigned Organizations

DATE: March 25, 2015

RE: Opposition to Senate Bill 904 and House Bill 241

As service providers, human rights advocates, and experts working on behalf of victims of human trafficking across the country, we appreciate the zeal with which the Maryland legislature has taken on the fight to end human trafficking. However, we believe strongly that SB 904 and HB241 are misguided and we oppose increasing penalties under subsection (a) of Maryland Criminal Code § 11-303 and urge the committees to release an unfavorable report on each of the respective bills.

Firstly, it is important to recognize that trafficking adults with the use of force, fraud, or coercion is already correctly a felony under MCC § 11-303(b)(2). This is in line with the definition of trafficking used by the federal government, and accepted as a model law by the American Bar Association, the Uniform Laws Commission, the United Nations, and experts in human trafficking. SB 904 and HB 241 are unnecessary to protect adult victims of human trafficking.

As it stands, MCC § 11-303(a) criminalizes activities that fall far beyond the widely accepted definition of human trafficking. If the amendments pass, basic safety techniques that those in the sex trade, including victims of human trafficking, engage in as a means of harm reduction would be considered felony human trafficking. For instance, two trafficking victims driving to and from jobs together would be considered felony human trafficking. This increased criminalization of an overbroad definition of trafficking will inadvertently escalate harm to adult victims of trafficking, as well as homeless and otherwise vulnerable adults involved in prostitution who rely on their peers for basic survival.

The increased penalties of these common harm-reduction activities have far-reaching consequences beyond longer and more costly sentences. Many Maryland residents who enter into prostitution have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of homelessness, health conditions, and survival related behaviors such as trading sex for shelter. As such, they may have lengthy criminal records for crimes that may eventually be expunged or sealed.  Human trafficking is not eligible for sealing or expungement. As such, anyone arrested and convicted under MCC § 11-303 for prostitution-related activities that fall short of the commonly understood definition of human trafficking will face life-long stigma and discrimination when seeking employment, housing, and education. This is especially true when considering that most employers, landlords, and other gate-keepers will not understand the broad range of survival activities that are considered “human trafficking” under Maryland state law. This unfortunate consequence of criminalization forces people to rely on the sex industry, even when seeking to escape it. This problem is only compounded if non-violent trafficking charges are increased to felonies.  Passing this law could wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable, and we are deeply concerned about the implications.

We, the undersigned, oppose SB 904 and HB 241.