SWP Talking Points :: Rhode Island Bill on Criminalization of Prostitution

The Rhode Island Senate is currently considering a bill that proposes to criminalize prostitution in Rhode Island. SWP believes that this bill will hurt, not help victims of trafficking, for the following reasons:

Arrests don't help to identify trafficking victims
In our experience, where prostitution is criminalized, trafficking victims are repeatedly arrested in anti-prostitution/vice raids without ever being identified as trafficked. Such arrests are deeply traumatizing to trafficking victims, thereby decreasing, rather than increasing, the likelihood that they will come forward and cooperate with law enforcement in pursuit of their traffickers.
Arrests don't help victims to escape from abusive situations
Arrests are not an effective way of supporting victims of trafficking to escape their abusers. We don't arrest survivors of domestic violence to force them to leave their abusers or participate in their prosecutions. We shouldn't do it to trafficking survivors. Questioning by law enforcement officers immediately following arrest on prostitution related charges is not the most effective way of identifying survivors of trafficking into sex work - providing nonjudgmental services where a trafficking victim can building a relationship of trust with a social service provider is a far more successful way of identifying and assisting survivors of trafficking in leaving coercive situations.
Arrests make victims more vulnerable
Arrests for prostitution often leave trafficking victims more vulnerable to trafficking (due to fines and legal fees) and to retaliation and abuse by their traffickers.
Criminalization isn't necessary
Criminalization of prostitution is not necessary to combating trafficking in persons! Labor trafficking can be and is investigated and prosecuted without criminalizing the underlying activity (picking tomatoes, domestic work, restaurant work). All trafficking into prostitution can be effectively prosecuted under federal and state trafficking legislation regardless of whether prostitution itself is criminalized or not! Existing state criminal laws against assault, extortion, coercion, indentured servitude, kidnapping, rape, and other forms of force, fraud or coercion are also sufficient to address trafficking situations.
Victims need services, not arrests
What trafficking victims really need is more nonjudgmental social services to help them escape coercive situations to safety - funds currently used to incarcerate people on prostitution related offenses should be diverted to providing such services. The Family Life Center of Rhode Island estimates that the state of Rhode Island spends $144,000 annually to incarcerate people on prostitution related offenses.