Policy Priority
Impacts of Criminalization on Survivors
Prostituted people are victims of sexual and gender-based violence and deserve services rather than arrest. Thistle Farms supports the Equality Model and efforts that will get us closer to it.

Imbalanced and Inconsistent Justice

Alisa Bernard, Thistle Farms Director of Public Policy & Advocacy

The Imbalance

The rate of arrests for traffickers or sex buyers per year in the US is far outpaced by survivors of the sex trade who have been criminalized for their own victimizations.

are prostituted women and traffickers.

are prostituted men and pimps.

are sex buyers.

an innovative policy approach


Why Don't We Just Legalize It?

There are many reasons why legalization of prostitution isn’t a good option. 

Prostitution as Work

Legalizing prostitution muddles the line between rape and refusal of payment, and employment and sexual access. Additionally, the concept of workplace sexual harassment becomes moot when sex acts are the workplace. 

Grows the Market

Legalization also normalizes sex buying, which emboldens the market and provides economic incentive to traffickers to push more vulnerable people into the sex trade.

Creates a Culture of Commodity

All vulnerable people are impacted by a robust sex trade in their community as they have the potential to be commoditized and further marginalized.

Arrest Benefits and Challenges

The narratives of "arrest saved her life" and "we can't get them out if we don't arrest them" fail to take racial analysis into account, and do not recognize the traumatic impacts of the arrest itself.

While "arrest saved my life" is a narrative that should never be devalued for survivors that identify that as a core part of their lived experience, it should be recognized that the arrest should be viewed as a vehicle to obtain life-saving services rather than the catalytic mechanism for exit.

Barriers to Future Success

Criminal records create long-term barriers to employment, education, housing, custody, and even services and accessing the simple right to vote.

Steep Financial Burden

Court fees accrue inordinate amounts of interest, resulting in debt and credit impacts.

Racial Impact

White individuals are historically referred to services at a higher rate than black or Latino prostituted people.

Listening To Survivors

I have been in emergency rooms only to be treated like a common criminal. From emergency personnel to EMTs, it didn’t seem to cross their minds to offer a resource or even that I needed help.

Roxanne White, thelifestory.org

One thing my trafficker used against me is that I wouldn’t be able to get a place to live on my own if I left him. I also know if I ever got caught and charged with prostitution, I would never be able to get housing. Right there on the lease it says that they could legally deny me housing if I had a prostitution offense.

Andrea, thelifestory.org

I finally got out of it when I was 28. I had been arrested so many times, but over and over again my pimp would bail me out and put me back on the street. I had lost everything by then: I had no credit, no apartment, no car. All I had was shame. My family treated me like I had a scarlet “S” on my forehead or chest.

Author'sLinda Oluch, aworldwithoutexploitation.org name

I have an education, vast experience, and I am the executive director of a nonprofit. However, I have a criminal record that still keeps me from working in some settings. I’ve been out of the Life for 15 years, but my past still comes back to haunt me, even though I was a crime victim, not a criminal.

Jeri Moomaw, thelifestory.org

We need to address the individual needs of survivors, as well as reform systems that continue to traumatize those they serve. The story told is too often unrealistically black and white. The villain is not just the trafficker, and the heroes are rarely those who ‘rescue us.’ The villains are often the nurses who humiliate us, the police who arrest us, the media outlets that publish our mugshots, the men who buy us, the counselors who don’t listen to us. My journey out of sexual exploitation has largely been about overcoming societal barriers. The heroes in this story are those of us who make it out.

Jamie Rosseland, thenewabolitionists.com

Moving towards overcoming The Systems

We recognize not every city is ready for the Equality Model, so we support initiatives that reduce the rates of arrest and impacts of criminalization of survivors.
We prioritize initiatives that:
Ease access and affordability of record sealing, expungement and vacatur.
Create pathways out of the criminal justice system such as diversion programs.
Improve incarceration conditions and increase release opportunities.
Give immunity to survivors who report sex buyers or traffickers.
Educate judges, attorneys, and law enforcement.

Show a survivor you care

Leave a note of love and affirmation for a survivor. These messages will be shared with the residents and graduates of our residential program to encourage and uplift.

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Speak your truth

Sharing and amplifying your story may be a powerful part of your healing journey. 

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Take the Pledge

Love is the most powerful force for change in the world. Pledge to end violence and exploitation through small and great acts of love. 

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Educational Resources

View all
Why It's So Hard to Stop Illegal Massage Businesses
Sex trafficking within massage parlors has raised eyebrows for decades. An 11Alive Reveal Investigation talks with one woman who escaped.
Spanish Prime Minister Vows to Abolish Prostitution, Saying It ‘Enslaves’ Women
Prostitution is one of the cruelest aspects of the feminization of poverty and one of the worst forms of violence against women.
Looking Beyond Binaries: The Case for Partial Decriminalization of the Sex Trade
Ending criminal penalties for [people in the sex trade] is long overdue, but it’s crucial to guard against exploitation as well.
³Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-907.01, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-90-1412, Cal. Penal Code § 236.14, Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-7-201.3 & 24- 72-706, Del. Code Ann. Tit. 11, § 787(j), Fla. Stat. Ann. § 943.0583, Ga. Code Ann. § 17-10-21, Ga. Code Ann. § 15-11-32, Haw. Rev. Stat. § 712-1209.6, Idaho Code § 67-3014, 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/116-2.1, Ks. Stat. Ann. § 21-6614, Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 529.160, La. Stat. Ann. Child. Code Tit. 8, Art. 923, MD Code, Crim. Proc., § 8-302, (Mi. Comp. Laws Ann. § 780.621, as amended by Act 191 (2020), effective Apr. 11, 2021, Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-54.6, Mon. Code Ann. § 46-18- 608, Nev. Rev. Stat. § 179.247, N.J. Crim. Proc. Code § 2C:44-1.1, N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 633:7, N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-52-1.2, N.Y. Crim. Pro. Law § 440.10, N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 15A-1416.1, N.D. Cent. Code Ann. § 12.1-41-14, Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2953.38, Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 22, § 19c, Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 137.221, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3019, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3- 2020, (Tex. Gov’t. Code Ann. § 411.0728, Utah Code Ann. § 78B-9-104, Vt. Stat. Ann. Tit. 13, § 2658, Wash. Rev. Code §§ 9.96.060 & 9.96.070, (W. Va. Code § 61-14-9, Wis. Stat. Ann. § 973.015, WY Stat. Ann. § 6-2-708