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  • Writer's pictureThe Unfiltrd Team

Decriminalizing VS Legalizing Sex Work

like with the fight to decriminalize Marijuana, there’s been huge conversations around legalizing sex work across the US the last few years. Especially with the boom that onlyfans created when everyone turned to the platform as a way to make money during the pandemic. But many activists are pushing for Decriminalization instead of legalization of this industry. Today’s blog is going to focus on these two words and what a difference they would make for our community at large.


So the big argument from “allies” of the SW Industry, but not actual SWers, is legalization. And though it’s led with good intentions it’s not well thought out. In 1971 Nevada was the first state to legalize prostitution. However, you could only engage in prostitution in a highly regulated, strictly permitted brothel. These brothels were typical in rural areas that are sparsely populated. Moreover, the licensing of these rural brothels are strictly limited and illegal in the cities of Reno, Las Vegas and their suburbs. This system allows the state and the brothel owners to benefits at the sex workers expense. Working as a Sex Worker outside of the regulated brothel system is illegal. Just in 2018 2859 sex workers were arrested for the victimless crime of engaging in consensual adult prostitution outside of a licensed brothel. Even though prostitution is technically legal in Nevada, they still have the highest arrest rate for prostitution per capita in the country. Legalization only benefits the licensed brothels that employ sex workers, the county that regulates the brothel and the state the collects the taxes. The individual is subject to every one of the regulations put in place by each entity and walks away with less autonomy than if they were able to engage in sex work on their own terms


The issue that sex workers across the country are really pushing for is not necessarily legalization, because we in the industry know that’s not the answer, but decriminalization. Decriminalization offers up greater protection for sex workers. In 2003 New Zealand passed the Prostitution Reform Act *PRA* Government reports 5 years after the passing of PRA showed that people were better off under PRA than they were before it. Working conditions approved for sex workers all over the country and in some parts of Australia where it had also been decriminalized. SWers were reporting safer working conditions because they were no longer being exploited by criminals, they could report crimes committed against them because they no longer feared being arrested for reporting to law enforcement. They were actually protected by law enforcement under the PRA. Violence has drastically declined since 2003 against sex workers and there have even been cases where law enforcement has ensured payment of services because they’ve been able to prosecute clients for theft of services.

As another example of decriminlizing working, take a look at sodomy laws in the US. We never actually passed any laws legalizing sodomy. We just decriminalized it and stopped prosecuting people for being gay. Sodomy laws were deemed to be unconstitutional in 2003 . States didn’t establish new laws or licensing or any of that nonsense in regards to people engaging in sodomy. They just stopped prosecuting people for engaging in those acts. Decriminalizing sex work would have a similar effect.

Human Sex Trafficking

Human Sex trafficking is one of the hardest topics to discuss, but it still happens all over the world. Including the US. here’s how legalization doesn’t help with sex trafficking: legalization makes sex workers dependent on third parties such as brothel owners. Brothel owners have the potential to exploit their employees and could also be obtaining their “employees” from black market transactions. Decriminalization reduces the risk of of human trafficking because sex workers are able to freely advocate for their own health and safety, not become dependent on exploitive third parties, and work with law enforcement if they are being trafficked by someone instead of fearing they’ll be arrested for being a sex worker and further exploited by the legal system.

What we can do as Sex Workers

So whats our role in all of this? Well you can start by calling your local and state representatives and push them to decriminalize sex work. You can find voices in the industry that are speaking out against bad faith actors pushing for legalization and support them in their efforts to educate people. We’ve talked about the importance of engagement on social media ad nauseam in our blogs, find these voices, like comment on and share their posts. Boost their voices and use your own. We may not all be engaging in in-person sex work, but we are all of us Sex Workers in one way or another here on Unfiltrd.

Be Healthy, Be Safe. Sara Lyn Chacon Unfiltrd Staff

Information for this blog was pulled from Decriminalize Sex work You can read more about their mission as well as find resources for advocacy and more at the hyper link above.

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