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Rhode Island is the only state in the United States where prostitution is decriminalized indoors. Since decriminalization inthe sex industry has expanded and Rhode Island has become a destination for commercial sex in New England.


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But the idea is a divisive one, stirring impassioned debates and concerns about the ways varying approaches could harm sex workers. While prostitution is a crime in most places, there are notable exceptions and variations. The Swedish or Nordic model takes aim at the demand, making it illegal to buy sexual services but not to sell it.

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Prostitution decriminalized: rhode island’s experiment

Civil Rights. In the United States, sex work was not explicitly outlawed in many areas for the first few centuries of its existence. In this way, the Mann Act created a national perception of sex workers as victims.

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Harvard University Press, COYOTE sued the state of Rhode Island in alleging that their anti-prostitution laws were far too broad and that many sexual acts between consenting adults could be seen as prostitution under the law. Although the case was eventually dismissed as mute, in the Rhode Island General Assembly changed the prostitution laws in an attempt to make them more specific.

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In the process, they created a legislative loophole that lasted almost 30 years that outlawed street prostitution but essentially made indoor prostitution legal. In a court case was dropped after the judge realized the loophole in the law and soon began the re-criminalization campaign in the state.

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Under legalization, workers are required to register, pay for licensing fees, submit weekly STD testand turn over earnings to brothel owners. Legalization thus creates a two-tiered system of illegal and legal workers.

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In Nevada brothels, sex work is legal through a highly regulated system that requires workers to register so their names and personal information can be accessed by any public records request. This information can be used to discriminate sex workers in future employment, housing and child custody cases, and puts them at risk from predators who might stalk them. By contrast, in the years under decriminalization in Rhode Island, there were no regulations — indoor commercial sex establishments had the same licensing regulations that all other businesses in Rhode Island.

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In Rhode Island, sex workers could work from home, hotels or for agencies, like spas and massage parlors. Decriminalization has been shown to protect the health and safety of sex workers.

The backstory to rhode island’s policy

These important distinctions between decriminalization and legalization frame the ongoing debate for sex worker rights globally. In November ofa new law was passed to prohibit all commercial sex in Rhode Island regardless of whether it was on the streets or indoors. Anti-trafficking activism has risen since the year following the passage of the United Nations Palermo Protocol. These debates have become particularly fraught in Rhode Island. Donna M Hughesa professor at the University of Rhode Islandhas been the leading academic pushing for the criminalization of sex work in Rhode Island.

InHughes collaborated with Katherine Y Chon and Derek P Ellerman — co-founders of the anti-human trafficking organization the Polaris Projectcreated during their time as undergraduate students at Brown University — on a research study. Furthermore, for this research, the author conducted 36 interviews; more than half of the interviewees are of law enforcement, ten are social service providers, six are reporters and one is a researcher.

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None of these people are trafficked women or sex workers who have worked with trafficked women. University of Pennsylvania Press, Funding for our reporting relies on the generosity of readers like you. Our independence allows us to write stories that hold RI state and local government officials able. All of our stories are free and available to everyone. But your support is essential to keeping Steve and Will on the beat, covering the costs of reporting many stories in a single day. If you are able to, please support Uprise RI.

Every contribution, big or small is so valuable to us.

The history of sex work law in rhode island

You provide the motivation and financial support to keep doing what we do. Thank you. Contemporaneously, a community of concerned academics raised concerns against the decriminalization of indoor prostitution. Academics such as sociologist and criminologist Ronald Weitzercomposed a few tly ed letters noting that compared to street work, indoor sex work is generally much safer: there are lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, better working conditions, and lower rates of getting assaulted or robbed.

In addition, the majority of indoor sex workers have not been trafficked against their will, instead, they have made the conscious decision to enter the trade.

Prostitution in rhode island

This academic opposition to criminalization, along with the methodological problems that come with trying to determine sex trafficking victims, was not substantively discussed or mentioned in the public campaign for the criminalization of sex work in Rhode Island. Under Attorney General Peter Neronha, are those carrying badges entitled to a different tier of justice?

Stop anti-Asian violence. Connect with us. Civil Rights After four years, Cranston panhandling ordinance struck down.

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Civil Rights "Call it what it is, a hate crime. Stop China bashing," say activists in Providence.

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History of Sex Work Law in Rhode Island COYOTE sued the state of Rhode Island in alleging that their anti-prostitution laws were far too broad and that many sexual acts between consenting adults could be seen as prostitution under the law. History of anti-trafficking and conflation with sex work Anti-trafficking activism has risen since the year following the passage of the United Nations Palermo Protocol.

Examining rhode island's prostitution and sex trafficking laws

About the Author. Bella Robinson and Elena Shih. Related Topics: Law Enforcement sex work. Continue Reading. You may like. Preventing violence and arrest in sex work in Rhode Island. Sex workers fight for Study Commission to examine criminalization of sex work in Rhode Island.

Sex Workers enter the national landscape as presidential candidates consider sex work-study. Top Stories.

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