Those opposed to the decriminalization of sex work in Washtenaw County voice concerns

‘We are not authorizing or condoning commercial sex,’ prosecutor Eli Savit says

The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer pursue charges against those who work consensually in the sex industry.

WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich.The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer pursue charges against those who work consensually in the sex industry.

Local 4 spoke with Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit about the new policy. Local 4 also spoke to some of the people who have voiced opposition to the policy.

“Let me be clear on this. We are going after human traffickers. We are prosecuting predatory pimps,” Savit said. “What we are not doing is seeking criminal charges for consensual sex work and that is because we know that when sex work takes place in the shadows, it renders folks that are engaged in that activity more vulnerable to sexual assault, more vulnerable to physical assault.”

Despite Savit’s intentions, there has been backlash against the new directive from people who live in the area, and people across the globe. They said that when sex work is legal, sex trafficking tended to increase and not decrease.

Lauren Hersh is with World Without Exploitation -- a movement to end human trafficking and sexual exploitation -- believes that by decriminalizing sex work in the county, young women in the area will be put at risk.

READ: Detroit nonprofit organization rescues sex trafficking victims

“Just by the sheer fact that you, at a college town, you end up with young women and girls and in this moment in time we know that people are more vulnerable than ever,” Hersh said. “So we are essentially giving sex buyers a free pass and leading young vulnerable people right into the belly of the sex trade.”

Hersch believes that the individuals who engage in sex work voluntarily are among a small minority.

“Where sex buying is legal what we know for sure is that there is a spike for the demand for commercial sex so think of a place like Amsterdam, which has become a hub for the sex trades,” Hersch said.

As far as concern for the two college towns that sit in Washtenaw County and the impact decriminalization of sex work means, Savit said he’s not worried.

“We are not authorizing or condoning commercial sex here in Washtenaw County. There’s going to be no brothels. We will shut those down. There’s not going to be a street like you have in Amsterdam where folks are openly sold for sex,” he said.

READ: Metro Detroit human trafficking survivor faced charges and is now exposing major flaw in criminal system

Brigette Robarge is a human trafficking survivor, who says she was trafficked from the age of 21 to 27 years old.

Robarge is now an advocate for human trafficking survivors, and is against the new policy in Washtenaw County.

“There isn’t much of a difference between pro-sex work and trafficked person. Exploitation is exploitation,” she said.

READ: Human trafficking survivor takes fight for change to Lansing

Chrissy Hemphill is an advocate for human trafficking survivors.

She wrote an op-ed for the Detroit News titled “There’s nothing harmless about sex buying.”

“Just made me think about the massive amount of vulnerable people in that county and how scary it is that he is no longer going to prosecute people who are purchasing sex,” she said.

View the policy directive below:

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.