If Washington DC care about protecting prostituted women, the last thing they should do is decriminalise the pimps and punters who abuse them

Washington DC may be the first city in the US to decriminalise prostitution, in a move that has split activists and human rights organisations. Prostitution has been legalised in certain counties in Nevada, which, having caused human trafficking and sexual and physical abuse to rise rapidly, should be seen as an abject failure. But DC would be the first city to remove criminal sanctions for those involved in prostitution. While those who are bought and sold within the sex trade should not face the threat of criminalisation, it would be a grave mistake to for the city to propagate the abuse and exploitation of the most impoverished in society.

Decriminalising prostitution hinges on the assumption that prostitution is inevitable. If it’s going to happen, you “may as well make it safer”. The problem is, decriminalisation brings with it a whole host of problems that cannot be ignored.

First and foremost, it should not be a matter of legislative policy to grant a person (almost always a man) the right to purchase the inside of another person’s (almost always a woman’s) body for their sexual gratification. Those in   to be used and abused in exchange for payment.

The very concept of prostitution is problematic in that it assumes a woman’s ability to provide sexual gratification to a man is something that can, and should, be bought. By decriminalising the sex trade, the officials in DC are tacitly acknowledging that they believe this objectification is permissible, both legally and ethically.

That aside, decriminalisation has also been linked to increases in trafficking, as well as not actually reducing the inherent violence and abuse faced by women in prostitution. Because prostitution is inherently exploitative and a form of gender-based violence, once you remove the criminal sanctions for those wishing to engage the services of a prostituted individual, the violence and abuse that the punter was originally going to mete out becomes par for the course.

As a human rights organisation, CEASE educates people about the reality of human rights violations within the context of sexual exploitation. We are calling on officials within DC to recognise that decriminalisation of prostitution would sanction the regular and consistent violence that prostituted individuals face on a daily basis. More than that, it would actively lead to an increase in that violence, in their city and on their watch.

Nobody has a human right to purchase the inside of somebody else’s body.