New Polls Find that for First Time, Majority of Country Supports Decriminalization of Sex Work
For the first time in history, polling finds outright majority (52%) voters across all political IDs support decriminalization. Additionally, two-thirds of voters age 18-44 support decriminalization, as do two-thirds of Democratic voters. Data for Progress, NCTE, ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Women’s March, and two dozen other orgs release report and united policy platform on decriminalizing sex work.
Today, 28 organizations working on a range of human rights and public health issues are releasing a report advocating for the decriminalization of sex work in the United States. The 27-page report defines the issue, describes policing and criminalization patterns, and proposes a united 2-page policy platform for decriminalization. The report also contains two new national polls by Data for Progress/YouGov, one on the decriminalization of sex work and the other on ending vice policing. The report is authored by Data for Progress Fellow and Decrim NY organizer Nina Luo. A full copy of the report can be found at bit.ly/decrimreport. Detailed polling results, including cross-tabulations, can be found at bit.ly/decrimpoll. See end of press release for full list of organizations signed onto the report.
“It’s very simple, decriminalizing sex work is the future. One, real wages haven’t risen, 13% of Americans know someone who has died because they couldn’t afford healthcare, and we have a $1.5 trillion student debt crisis. The economy is leaving people behind, so if you’re not doing sex work, you know someone who is. It’s harder to call for the criminalization of something that more and more people in your community are relying on for survival. Two, not only do young people see that, we understand that police and criminalization are not effective strategies for dealing with issues. In fact, they make things worse. Of voters age 18-29, only 9% strongly oppose decriminalizing sex work. That’s credit to movements against police violence like Black Lives Matter and the general decrease in interest in authoritarian structures like the church and the police for political direction. Three, this movement is organizing, and it’s organizing fast. Electeds and candidates seeking office should get with where the public is and move decriminalization and the defunding of vice policing forward, or you’ll be voted out.” - Nina Luo, Data for Progress Fellow, Decrim NY organizer and report author.
The report’s policy platform calls on:
- Legislative bodies to repeal statutes and create expungement systems.
- Prosecutors to issue decline-to-prosecute policies and to return civil asset forfeiture taken because of prostitution-related charges.
- Cities and counties to defund vice policing units and conduct investigations into law enforcement misconduct, especially sexual misconduct, against people in the sex trades.
- Local, state and federal governments to fund LGBTQ+ youth affirming shelters, invest in affordable housing for all, and fund services for people in the sex trades that are non-stigmatizing and not tied to arrest or police.
From November 27 through November 29 of 2019, YouGov Blue, on behalf of Data for Progress, polled 1,029 voters from across the country with two questions:
- Would you [support or oppose] decriminalizing sex work as New Zealand did in 2003? This would remove criminal penalties for adults to sell and pay for consensual sex while also maintaining laws that criminalize violence.
- Vice policing units often enforce laws against consensual sex work. One strategy they use is undercover stings and raids, in which plainclothes officers pose as potential customers, solicit sex workers and then arrest them.Do you [support or oppose] defunding vice policing dedicated to criminalizing sex work?
For each question, voters chose from five options: strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, strongly oppose, and not sure. The poll result is representative of the US voting population by age, race/ethnicity, sex, education, US Census region, and 2016 Presidential vote choice. The survey margin of error was +/-3.8 percent.
For the first time in history, polling finds an outright majority of voters (52%) in the nation support decriminalizing sex work, with net support at +16. This represents a +7 percentage change from Data for Progress’s last poll in May of 2019, when 45% of voters polled supported decriminalization. Three groups of people overwhelmingly support decriminalization: two-thirds of young people (voters age 18-44), two-thirds of Democratic voters across all ages (with net support +36), and 70% of Hispanic voters (with net support +42) want to decriminalize sex work. Union membership also predicts support for decriminalization: 61% of voters who are current union members are supportive, with net support at +24.
Overall, support for ending vice policing was similar to support for decriminalization. About 49 percent of voters support ending vice policing of sex work, compared to 35 percent who oppose it. This +14 net support for ending vice policing is statistically indistinguishable from the net +16 percent who support decriminalizing sex work. Two groups of people overwhelmingly support ending vice policing: nearly 60% of young people (voters age 18-44) and 59% of Democratic voters across all ages (with net support +33) want to decriminalize sex work. Interestingly, ending vice policing seems to be a slightly less politically polarizing issue than decriminalization. Whereas for decriminalization, Republican net support is -24, Republicans are split with a narrow lean against defunding vice policing, with net support at -6.
“It’s time that we end the criminalization of sex work. As more Americans learn about the issue, the impact of ‘vice raids’ and the targeting of sex workers by police, the more they move to support decriminalization. Decriminalizing sex work is critically important to transgender people – and particularly transgender people of color – who are often profiled as sex workers and arrested for merely going about their daily lives. Our US Trans Survey shows that transgender people report high rates of police harassment, abuse or mistreatment at the hands of police, both when they have been mistakenly profiled as sex workers and when they have actually engaged in sex work. Bringing sex work out of the shadows can help to reduce those risks.” - Mara Keisling, Executive Director, The National Center for Transgender Equality
List of organizations releasing the report (alphabetized):
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, LGBTQ Caucus
- Black Alliance for Just Immigration
- Black and Pink
- Black Youth Project 100
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Center for HIV Law and Policy
- Collective Action for Safe Spaces
- Data for Progress
- DECRIMNOW DC
- Decrim NY
- Harm Reduction Coalition
- Human Rights Campaign
- If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice
- Immigrant Defense Project
- National Black Justice Coalition
- National Center for Lesbian Rights
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- National Lawyers Guild
- National LGBTQ Task Force
- Reframe Health and Justice
- TRANScending Barriers
- Transgender Law Center
- URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
- Witness to Mass Incarceration
- Women's March