Sex Workers Sue California

Sex workers are suing California in an effort to legalize their profession. Although it’s reputedly the world’s oldest profession, sex work is still widely considered illegal in America — a state of affairs which the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project (ESPLER) is trying to change.

ESPLER is hoping to realize these changes through a lawsuit filed on March 4, 2015 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit, which claims that California’s 1961 prostitution laws violate key aspects of the constitution, names as defendants California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris and four district attorneys, including those in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda, and Sonoma counties.

The basic idea of the sex worker lawsuit is that the current prostitution laws abridge some constitutionally protected freedoms. Specifically, current California laws could limit conversation about paid, consensual sex exchanges — and such limitations would stand in violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

Furthermore, the sex worker lawsuit contends that the current sex laws violate the fundamental right to engage in consensual sexual activity, that they prevent adults from choosing how they want to earn a living and who they want to enter into a contractual relationship with, and that they limit who individuals can meet with privately. Collectively, these points could violate the constitutionally protected right of free association, which is also guaranteed in the First Amendment.

The suit also claims that sex workers’ Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection is being violated by laws that have negative health and legal implications. Currently, California can use condoms as evidence of illicit activity, a practice which discourages safe sex.

ESPLER has said that the 1961 anti-prostitution law was put in place only for moral reasons, but that there is no legitimate or constitutional reason for continuing to let these laws stand.

Summing up the suit’s concerns, ESPLER President Maxine Doogan, a long-time sex worker, told CBS San Francisco, “We want the court to recognize our right to free speech. We want the court to recognize our right to equal protection under the law.”

In a press release, Doogan described the legalization of sex work as the next logical step in civil rights legislation as it relates to sex: “Just as the Lawrence v. Texas decision made same-sex sexual activity legal, and the Loving v. Virginia decision struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage, this complaint seeks to remove the government from restricting basic fundamental and widely recognized civil and human rights.”

Citing other court cases, ESPLER attorney D. Gill Sperlein said, “The State can no longer simply say that morality is a sufficient reason for regulating private sexual relationships even when it involves the exchange of money. Social science clearly demonstrates that the criminalization of prostitution puts sex workers at risk of abuse because it discourages them from reaching out to law enforcement.”

Instead of asking for any monetary relief or compensation, the lawsuit asks the court to declare Section 647(b) of the California Penal Code — the 1961 prostitution law — unconstitutional.

The named defendants have not yet issued a public response to the suit.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Visit Us On Facebook