Tamika Spellman is happy to go out on the strip in the morning and pick up used condoms with her own two hands if that’s what it takes. She has been a commercial sex worker, by choice, for 36 years. She wants to see sex work decriminalized in D.C., and she’s spent nearly two years advocating for a bill that would do just that.

She’s not alone. Today a coalition of sex workers and their advocates unveiled their bill—co-introduced by At-Large Councilmembers Anita BondsDavid Grosso, and Robert White, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau—which would decriminalize both the sale and purchase of sex in D.C.

Those advocating for this bill, the Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019, are part of a grassroots movement largely led by current and former sex workers. In collaboration with advocates, Grosso and White co-introduced a similar bill in 2017, but it didn’t even get a hearing. So the organizers regrouped, built a website, held events celebrating and talking about their position, went door knocking, wrote op-eds, and met with councilmembers.

This time around, the organizers would like a hearing.

“People need to come around to this at their own speed,” says Grosso. So I don’t mind taking the time to get it right.”

The world of people who sell sex for money in D.C. is not a monolith with one blanket policy need. Among their ranks are those who sell sex by choice; those who sell sex to survive, feed their children, and stave off homelessness; and those who sell sex against their will because they’ve been trafficked.

Under the current law in D.C., police can arrest and charge anyone who sells sex. Often, the arrest goes like this: A plain-clothes officer pulls up to a strip and asks a suspected sex worker if she’d like a ride or wants to get in the car. When the sale advances, the officer makes an arrest. “And that’s how it always happens,” says Spellman. “And then for you to cuff me, take me to jail. That’s unconscionable. You criminalized me purposely. You picked me out of the crowd.”

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Council-members, Sex Workers, and Allies introduce bill to decriminalize Sex work in D.C. by Alexa Mills

June 3rd, 2019