Sex Work Policy

Policy 2021-08: Policy Regarding Sex Work

Over and over again, America has attempted to criminalize activity that runs counter to purported social mores. These prohibitionist policies have inevitably made things worse. Alcohol and drug prohibition, for example, created black markets for those substances, which significantly increased the violence and criminal activity associated with alcohol and drugs.

Lamentably, America has repeated these mistakes through the criminalization of sex work. Though sex work is legal—at least in some form—in nearly 100 countries across the globe, it generally remains criminalized in the United States. And the data is unambiguous. As with other prohibitionist policies, the criminalization of sex work actually increases the risk of sex work-adjacent harm. Forcing sex workers to operate in the shadows increases their susceptibility to physical assault, sexual assault, and trafficking. The threat of prosecution, moreover, makes sex workers and trafficking survivors less likely to report crimes.

Criminalization of sex work has also proved catastrophic to public health. When sex work is criminalized, sex workers lose bargaining power in the transaction, which makes it less likely that they can insist upon condom use. That, in turn, facilitates the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Indeed, a series of research papers published in The Lancet—the world’s leading independent general medical journal—concluded that decriminalization of sex work would have “the greatest effect,” worldwide, on reducing new HIV infections in the next decade.

For these reasons and others, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer file criminal charges that are based solely on the consensual exchange, between adults, of sex for money. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, will continue to vigorously pursue sex work-adjacent criminal charges, including charges involving violence, trafficking, or the victimization of children.

Read our full Policy Regarding Sex Work