By Ricci J. Levy
The Sex Workers Human Rights Commission
July 15, 2021
Remarks from Commissioner Ricci Joy Levy
My name is Ricci Levy and I’m the President & CEO of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, founded in 2003. We’re a human rights organization whose work is focused at the intersection of sexual and human rights.
We are the lead plaintiff in Woodhull Freedom Foundation vs. the United States of America, the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SESTA/FOSTA. Ten years ago we were part of a historic collaborative effort to hold the United States to account for human rights abuses against sex workers. That historic effort led to what’s referred to as Recommendation #86 where the United States recognized that violence against sex workers is a human rights violation. Fast forward to today, ten years later, having this exciting conversation about decriminalizing sex work in the great state of Oregon.
As with all human rights work, the work to decriminalize prostitution is integrally connected to the work for social and economic justice because without those things there is no sexual freedom, and, conversely, without sexual freedom – social or economic justice will not be complete.
Our fundamental human right to sexual freedom means that we have a right to bodily autonomy, which means we can decide how we use our bodies. In labor or otherwise. Prostitution involves people choosing to have sex and use their body to make a living.
For sexual freedom to be fully recognized as a human right we have to address the issues of forced labor and trafficking, but the criminalization of prostitution is not the answer. The criminalization of prostitution is about controlling our bodies, controlling our access to and participation in labor, in pleasure, in sexual expression. It’s about sex. That’s the bottom line. Trafficking occurs in all forms of labor, yet we don’t criminalize the growing or eating of tomatoes in order to combat trafficking in agriculture any more than we criminalize the cleaning of hotels or homes to combat domestic trafficking. In fact, criminalization makes it more difficult to protect victims by imposing a double burden on them: the burden of prosecution on top of the burden of victimization. Restricting, punishing, criminalizing prostitution is, at heart, another way to restrict sex and pleasure, limiting our fundamental human right to personal autonomy. Criminalization is another example where the war against sex and pleasure has led to laws and policies based on false rhetoric. Decriminalization is the long-overdue answer!
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation fully supports the right of the individual to consensually exchange sex with another person. I am awed at the courage, the bravery of every one of you who will be sharing your story here with us today! Sex worker rights are human rights. Period.
Watch Ricci’s statement here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQH3XHjglf8