Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance

Affirming Sexual Freedom as a Fundamental Human Right

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Woodhull Verbal Testimony, Bill 19-567, “Prostitution-Free Zone Amendment Act of 2011”, Washington, DC





JANUARY 24, 2012


Chairperson Mendelson and Councilmember Alexander, thank you for giving us, and so many of our allies and constituents, the opportunity to comment on Bill 19-567, the Prostitution Free Zone Amendment Act of 2011.

My name is Ricci Levy and I am one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance.  Our mission is to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right.

On Sexual Freedom Day, September 23, 2011, The Council of the District of Columbia issued a proclamation citing the “significant and valued contributions to the human rights of the residents of the District of Columbia” of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance. The resolution referred to Woodhull as a “hub for scholarship, writing, information, and action for sexual freedom and all the rights encompassed therein,” and its “tireless advocacy” of its mission.

It is in those capacities you honored and noted in your proclamation that I appear before you today to oppose Bill 19-567, the Prostitution Free Zone Amendment Act of 2011.

Much of today’s testimony opposing Bill 19-567 addresses the fact that Prostitution Free Zones violate the US Constitution.  Some of my colleagues and allies are testifying about the people affected by anti-prostitution policing, including sex workers, people of color, transgender people, homeless people and others.  We are deeply concerned about the constitutionality of this bill and the negative impact it will have on those individuals.  We are joining of testimony to that of Human Rights Watch, Bob Summersgill, Rick Rosendall on behalf of Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, Darby Hickey, and Cyndee Clay on behalf of HIPS.

I want to speak with you today, though, about the commitment of the United States to the United Nations with regard to sex worker rights.

My organization recently participated in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review held in Geneva, Switzerland where we and our allies were successful in having the United States fully accept Recommendation #86, which called on the US to look into the special vulnerability of sex workers to violence and human rights abuses.

The United States fully accepted UPR recommendation #86 and, in the report released to the United Nations, the U.S. states “We agree that no one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution, as recommendation [#86] suggests”.

Woodhull is the first organization to ever get the issue of sexual freedom as a fundamental human right “on the table” at the United Nations, and we were especially happy to note that the Obama administration is taking human rights abuses against sex workers seriously, and is willing to stand up for what is right.  It was particularly significant because this was the first time the United States accepted that sex workers’ rights are a different issue from human trafficking victims and that sex workers’ rights are human rights.   

While it may seem like a statement of the obvious, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the Council that prostitution is illegal in Washington, D.C. and to ask the somewhat tongue-in-cheek question that if these zones are “prostitution free zones” does that mean that prostitution is okay in the rest of Washington, DC?  Of course it doesn’t, any more than establishing a “bank robbery free zone” would make it okay to rob banks elsewhere.  But we never hear about a “bank robbery free zone” because bank robberies aren’t about a sexual act and sex work is.

I understand that neighborhood residents have legitimate concerns about discarded condoms (among other things) and I would like to suggest that, rather than just chasing sex workers from one street corner to another, everyone would be better served by finding a solution that actually works.  For example, if discarded condoms are an issue, let us explore more trashcans in the areas where this is a problem.

Let us not allow the continuation of a situation that will be cited in the Universal Periodic Review as a further violation of human rights in this country.

I ask you today, each of you, to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to refuse to further perpetuate the human rights violations of which DC is guilty in the establishment of Prostitution Free Zones by voting against Bill 19-567.

Thank you.