Our Testimony in Opposition to Permanent “Prostitution Free” Zones

We’re at the DC Council’s Judiciary Committee today voicing our strong opposition to proposed permanent “Prostitution Free” Zones. These zones are currently limited to ten days, and since they came into effect in 2006, have effectively been Trans Profiling Zones. Their impact is to banish trans women of color from particular spaces in the city, and to endanger trans lives by forcing people into less safe areas.

Two DCTC members are testifying today in opposition to this bill. A few higlights are below.

From Alison Gill’s testimony:

Since passing the laws allowing for the creating of prostitution free zones in 2006, these zones have been used to harass and criminalize trans people and shatter trans communities. Although both the police orders implementing prostitution free zones (PFZs) and on transgender people prohibit profiling, we know from community experience that profiling trans people as sex workers is a prevalent occurrence. This attitude is reflected in both the violence committed by police against the trans community, and in some cases, even expressed directly (see attached). Due to the lesser burden of proof required by PFZs, police are able to turn general suspicions that trans women are prostitutes into arrests. In effect, trans women are banished from given areas of the city at the police chief’s discretion. Many of this past year’s violent attacks on trans women have happened in or near these profiling zones. The simple fact is that rather than eliminating prostitution, PFZs facilitate bad or lazy police work and lead to the harassment of trans women.

From Nico Quintana’s statement:

Sex work is employment. When other forms of employment are not accessible to someone due to transphobia, employment discrimination, education inequities, etc., sex work can be an employment opportunity.  Instead of punishing working people, and further marginalizing transgender communities, I recommend the District government continue its efforts to address poverty and employment inequities in the DC transgender community, like it is doing through Project Empowerment.

UPDATED: Our friends at HIPS sent out an update about the hearing that sums it up pretty nicely:

We want to let everyone know about the tremendously positive outcome of the hearing. Hopefully, the proposed PFZ expansion will be voted down! Organizations from the ACLU to the DC Public Defender Service came out to express their concern about the constitutionality of PFZs. Most strikingly, Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham testified against expanding PFZs, saying that “we cannot arrest our way out of the problem” and that “at the end of the day, there’s got to be a better approach.” He suggested increased mental health and substance treatment programs.

Ariel Levinson-Waldman, who is senior counsel to the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, said that PFZ laws in their current form are of questionable constitutionality and practicality and that this would only heighten if they are expanded. He suggested that the District would be litigated against  if MPD tried to arrest anyone under these laws.

For more about the hearing, check out the Washington Post and Metro Weekly.

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