Since 2006, the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has had the power to designate any public space in D.C. as a prostitution free zone (PFZ), which has in turn given MPD officers the right to disperse or arrest anyone they believe to be meeting in the space for the purpose of prostitution. The Alliance for a Safe and Diverse D.C. noted in a 2008 report that PFZs enabled police officers’ existing inclination toward profiling people as sex workers based on personal appearance, race, and gender presentation.
The MPD stopped designating areas as PFZs in 2012 because of concerns that the zones were unconstitutional. However, the PFZ law is still on the books, and other municipalities around the nation have based their own similar laws on it. There have even been efforts by some businesses to revive use of the law.
Earlier this year, NCTE was part of a coalition of LGBT groups that reviewed how the DC MPD’s relationship with the LGBT community and its handling of hate crimes. Our report concluded in part that MPD had lost the trust of the LGBT communities, primarily because of the perception of profiling of transgender people and perceived indifference toward crimes against trans people. The report noted that these problems were connected in part to the trans people being perceived as being criminals and less worthy of respect and protection due to being involved in sex work.
Responding to this report, community advocates in DC called for changes both from MPD and the DC Council, and prominent among those recommendations we reforming the District’s laws regarding sex work, starting with repealing the PFZ law. Soon after, District of Columbia Councilmembers David Grosso, David Catania, and Mary M. Cheh introduced the Repeal of Prostitution Free Zones Amendment Act of 2014 (B20-760).
Repealing this law would be a step toward making D.C. a safer place for all transgender people. Given the influence of the PFZ approach around the country, this is also a critical step toward eliminating discriminatory policing and moving toward smarter and more human approaches to issues related to sex work, both locally and nationally.
The D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety is holding a hearing on the Act this Wednesday, July 9 at 11 a.m. If you live in D.C., please send an email to your councilmember supporting the Act now.
If you live on or near a sex work ‘stroll’ in DC or have been personally affected by this issue and would like to testify or share your story, contact HIPS at CyndeeClay@hips.org.