New Jersey Prioritizes Sex Work Criminalization Over Outreach
Sex work is the practice of receiving payment for sexual activity. There are at least three tiers of sex work that is identifiable within the U.S: (1) street walking, (2) escort independent/agency employees, and (3) brothel employees.
Women within each tier come to the decision of engaging in sex work based on a number of factors such as, mental health and cognition, geographic placement, sex tracking, circumstance, and socioeconomic status.
Within each factor, there is a level of exploitation, violence, addiction and sexually transmitted disease risk. For a number of years, the legalization of prostitution has been debated and discussed as a solution to the high levels of exploitation, violence, and STI prevalence amongst street walkers.
A number of agencies and safe havens have dedicated their services to supporting the women who undergo the negative effects of sex work.
In New Jersey, prostitution, a more derogatory term for sex work, is identified as offering or accepting sex in exchange for money.
According to an 2016 analysis of FBI crime statistics, nearly 70 % of the 4,715 sex work-related arrests made by New Jersey law enforcement agencies were women (Astudillo , 2019).
New Jersey’s solution of conducting prostitution stings where police officers disguise themselves as “Johns”(male customers of a prostitute) or prostitutes to convict men and women of the act has not made much impact. Arrest for sex work does not decrease the activity on the streets.
Despite sex work being illegal, women are in need of support and resources. The less support women receive, the less chance there is for them to leave the profession.
Many sex workers are exploited or abused by pimps, use heroin or other drugs, and are raped, robbed, and or beaten by their clients. A number of sex workers began their careers as runaway teenagers and were abused as children (2016).
There is little to no safe havens or outreach programs for sex workers located in New Jersey. However, a safe haven within Chicago serves as an example of how a program can decrease prostitution activity.
“Genesis House” located in Chicago, Illinois, provides meals, recovery work, a place to sleep and shower, and emotional support for sex workers.
In Chicago, Police and courts are often sympathetic toward sex workers. Some judges will suspend charges if women arrested for acts of prostitution agree to enter Genesis programs and drop charges if they complete them. (Anderson, 1995)
Instead of criminalizing sex work in New Jersey, there should be a plan to create a safe haven, much like the Genesis House.
Social workers within the community should create an initiative that would support the women in Passaic County, by supplying the necessary tools to avoid contracting STDs and violence.
The ultimate goal should be to open up a program similar to Genesis House in the heart of Paterson.
To prepare for that goal, social workers should spread awareness of the dangers of sex work, and be a possible advocate for its decriminalization.