Advocates push for elimination of prostitution free zones in D.C.

Dozens of transgender rights advocates gathered outside the Wilson Building on Friday to rally behind Monica Jones, a transgender student at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work who was arrested last May for, in the words of the arresting officer, “manifesting prostitution.” The rally was organized by Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive and the D.C. Trans Coalition and Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance in an effort to pressure the D.C. council to pass a bill that would repeal “prostitution free zones” in D.C.

Jones’ arrest was part of Project Rose, an anti-prostitution collaboration between the Arizona State University School of Social work, the Phoenix Police Department, and Catholic charities that conducts massive street sweeps to bring as many sex workers as possible into a prostitution diversion program.

Jones claims that the arrest was motivated not by misconduct on her part, but because she is an activist and a transgender woman of color. “This law does not apply across the board,” Jones said to Truthout. “It applies to specific minorities and a specific area. If you look at this area, who’s in this area? Poor people and people of color.”

For the activists who gathered on Friday to support Jones, her case is indicative of the injustices that result from the enforcement of prostitution free zones, which, they argue, should no longer exist in the District.

Additionally, the city’s prostitution free zones are not being used to reduce prostitution. According to City Paper, Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said that police have not made a single arrest using the prostitution free zone statutes in a 2012 Post article. The growing concerns over the zones led Council member David Grosso (I-At-Large) to introduce legislation that would eliminate the zones.

“Police officers can then ask any group of two or more people who an officer ‘reasonably believes’ is in the prostitution free zone for the purpose of sex work to vacate the area … The inevitable profiling that happens within them, violate affected residents’ human right to be free from discrimination,” Grosso wrote in the Washington Blade.

According to a report prepared by the Anti-Defamation League for MPD, the enforcement of prostitution free zones unfairly targets trans* women of color while failing to decrease prostitution in the District.

Grosso’s legislation was referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, where it awaits further review.

Photo: Women’s eNews via Flickr

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