WASHINGTON — D.C. Councilmember David Grosso is behind a bill that would decriminalize prostitution, arguing it’s in keeping with his advocacy for human rights and marginalized communities.
“We basically criminalize too many activities,” Grosso argued in a recent news conference. “It is time for the District of Columbia to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex work, and move from one of criminalization to a focus on human rights, health and safety.”
Grosso says he worked with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition, and followed recommendations from a variety of human rights organizations from around the world as he drafted the bill.
“The bill is quite simple, really,” argues Grosso. “It repeals a number of laws or parts of laws that criminalize adults for exchanging consensual sex for money or other things of value.”
“By removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help them lead safer and healthier lives, and more easily tackle the complaints we hear from communities about trash or other nuisances.”
Grosso’s approach would be drastically different from the one some communities have pushed for in recent years. In 2012, the City Council considered an expansion of what were known as “prostitution-free zones” after a surge of complaints from residents in places like Deanwood and other neighborhoods east of the river.
The legislation eventually died amid concerns about its constitutionality, as well as the evolving nature of the prostitution business.
At a hearing, Peter Newsham, who was an assistant police chief at the time, noted there had been a decline in prostitution calls as well, even as community activists complained about having to clean up used condoms from church doorways.
Meanwhile, this push is just the latest of several controversial ideas from Grosso, who is well known for advocating for looser drug laws. Last month, Grosso asked the city to look into establishing supervised injection sites — essentially a safe space for drug users to shoot up in as a way to deal with a surge of overdoses in the city.
As a supporter of legalized marijuana as well, Grosso is pushing to reshape the city’s medical marijuana law and get rid of a requirement that has patients getting a doctor’s referral before buying marijuana from any of the city’s dispensaries.