Washtenaw County Prosecutor no longer pursuing charges for consensual sex work

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ANN ARBOR – Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit announced Thursday that his office will no longer press criminal charges in consensual sex work cases.

Savit said that his office will continue to “vigorously pursue” sex work crimes, including sexual and physical assault, human trafficking and crimes involving children.

The Prosecutor’s Office hopes that the new policy will encourage the reporting of these types of crimes. “The criminalization of sex work actually increases the risk of sex work-adjacent harm,” reads the 8-page policy directive issued to Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys.

According to published research, sex workers are less likely to report instances of exploitation and violence when they can be criminally charged for engaging in such work.

Furthermore, research papers in the world’s leading independent medical journal, The Lancet, conclude that decriminalizing sex work can reduce new HIV infections. According to the directive, when sex workers fear being charged, they have “little control over their working conditions including their ability to enforce condom use with clients.”

“Today’s policy directive is, fundamentally, about reducing sex workers’ vulnerability and exploitation,” Savit said in a news release. “When sex workers fear prosecution, they are less likely to report serious crime—crime like human trafficking, sexual assault, and physical assault

“We are laser-focused on crime that harms our community, and on protecting public safety. Today’s policy makes it far more likely that sex workers will feel comfortable reporting serious crime, and that they will be able to work in conditions that protect their safety and public health.”

The policy criticized the country’s “prohibitionist stance on sex work” compared to other countries around the world where consensual sex work has been legalized in nearly 100 nations.

“Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union have all called for the decriminalization of sex work,” reads the directive.

The Prosecutor’s Office will decline to file criminal charges solely based on the consensual exchange of sex for money between adults under the new policy.

However, should planned exchanges of sex for money result in violence or sexual assault, the Prosecutor’s Office will continue to firmly pursue criminal charges.

The policy concludes by quoting Supreme Court caselaw associated with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Criminalization of sex work is reminiscent of long-discarded ‘paternalistic’ laws which sought to shield female workers from purportedly harmful consequences associated with a chosen profession—but, ‘in practical effect,’ placed them ‘not on a pedestal, but in a cage.’”

See the full policy directive here.

This is the latest of a series of sweeping policy changes Savit has enacted since taking office on Jan. 1.

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About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.