We recently posted the following testimony on bills S.992 / H.1800 and S.940 / H.1761. Thanks to Desmond and Rikki for their efforts to craft this statement.
I would like to thank Chairs Eldridge and Day and the Committee on the Judiciary for the opportunity to be heard on these issues. My name is James O’Keefe, I live in Somerville, MA and I speak to you as Chair of the Massachusetts Pirate Party.
The Massachusetts Pirate Party supports the full decriminalization of sex work by consenting adults as a matter of principle and practicality. So long as the individuals involved are informed and consenting, and no harm is inherent in the act, we do not believe it is just or right to make that act a crime, or to stigmatize them for even appearing to engage in said act. No form of criminalization, including the so-called “end demand” model of asymmetrical criminalization advanced by Sweden and other countries, and embodied in bills S.940/H.1761, has ever worked at eliminating prostitution or providing any benefit. We therefore believe that such laws should be stricken from the books, and that sex workers be provided the means to control their own work and lives.
Some would argue that many who are involved in sex work do so out of desperation, and are therefore open to exploitation. We would agree, but only because conditions of poverty are what lead to such circumstances, and not just in commercial sex but many other lines of work, especially for women, people of color, and transgender people. If the Massachusetts legislature wishes to address such concerns, we strongly recommend that they address the issues of poverty and wealth inequality which are at the foundation of all forms of labor exploitation, as well as systemic gender and racial inequality which is interconnected with it.
Another argument made against decriminalization is that it would somehow cause a growth in sex trafficking. If this were true, then it could be argued that outlawing other forms of labor would stop trafficking in those areas. Cocoa harvesting and processing, for example, has perhaps the worst record for labor exploitation and abuses, including child labor, yet we don’t see anti-trafficking activists proposing a ban on chocolate, including arresting anyone who buys a chocolate bar, because they recognize that doing so would only drive the entire industry underground and make it harder to find and deal with trafficking. The same holds true for sex work. When New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003, and studies of the results were conducted by government and independent agencies, they did not find any evidence that it contributed to sex trafficking. Indeed, it can be argued that decriminalization can actually contribute to efforts to detect and halt sex trafficking. Prior to Sweden’s passing its ban on the purchase of sexual services in 1999, their police noted that many would-be clients of sex workers would report suspected incidents of coercion or abuse to them – but as soon as this law was passed, that source of information dried up.
Decriminalization gives sex workers the means to better control their own lives, and to develop and implement best practices to the benefit of themselves, their families, and the communities where they live and work. We regard S.992/H1.800 to be a positive step in this direction, and urge you to favorably vote H.1800 out of Committee in honor of Pride Month and to oppose H.1761. We hope that you instead consider the full decriminalization bill upcoming in this Committee. Thank you for your time and the opportunity to be heard.