Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, many absurd laws could be subject to change. It’s only natural; freedom is the key selling point of American culture, and any perceived violation to people’s right to free speech should at least get discussed.
Maxine Doogan has been a prostitute for over 20 years, and she’s the driving force behind a group of three sex workers and a client who have filed a lawsuit against the State of California, claiming the current anti-prostitution laws are unconstitutional.
“We’re adults and we can make decisions about our sexuality,” said Doogan. “We think it’s protected under the First Amendment, the right to free speech, right to sexual privacy.”
Doogan is the President of the civil rights group Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLER Project), a non-profit whose lawsuit will finally have a hearing in a federal court in Oakland, California, on August 7th of this year.
Citing a couple of legal precedents in which a subjective morality was used to regulate private sexual relationships, the plaintiffs are arguing that the anti-prostitution laws deprive individuals of their right to carry those consensual non-public activities.
The legislators who stand by the criminalization tend to refer to human trafficking as the reason to keep prostitution outlawed. “There are people victimized on a daily basis, under duress, beaten,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon told ABC. “Having said that, I don’t negate the fact there may be some consenting workers and if there are, how do we differentiate one from the other?”
Although there are clear ways to draw distinctions, the problem is bigger than that. While the excuse used to outlaw prostitution is the victimization of sex workers, the enforcement of those laws simply treat those alleged victims as criminals, and makes the whole vicious circle even less functional.
“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,” ESPLER attorney D. Gill Sperlein said.
Moreover, a lot of ESPLER’s advocacy attempts are usually obstructed and met with prejudice. “After we successfully raised $30,000 last year to fund the first stages of this lawsuit, the crowdfunding site we were using, GoFundMe, kicked us off without explanation,” Doogan said. “I am still waiting for the return of $500 remaining in our account that they owe us. But we are moving forward and aren’t going to let this hold us back.”
In order to cover further legal fees, a second crowdfunding campaign has been launched, hoping to raise an additional $30,000.
The legal brief can be found on ESPLER’s website, where victims of misguided law enforcement can also reach out for support and assistance.