When the news alert from the Baltimore Sun popped up saying: “Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby to stop prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, other crimes amid coronavirus,” I had a visceral reaction that was like a punch to the gut.
I’m most concerned about the inclusion of prostitution in her list. By ignoring the danger of prostitution, we are opening up women, girls and boys to sex trafficking, where, unlike prostitution, they have no autonomy in the transaction.
This is personal for me. I sold sex for money in my early twenties as a means of survival. More than a decade later, I learned that the average age of death for sex workers is mid-thirties. As the leader of a nonprofit organization that supports vulnerable young women, I worry that Mosby’s comments will unintentionally mislead people about the public safety risk of prostitution.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Mosby’s office, “called for police to stop jailing people who pose no risk to public safety.”
If Mosby and her office are not concerned about prostitution being a public safety risk, how can it be a concern for our patrol officers to try to stop the selling of sex, which actually could be trafficking rather than prostitution.
I was shocked to learn that within 30 minutes of Mosby’s announcement, Johns started sharing about it on USA Sex Guide, saying, “no arrest for prostitution during this crisis.” Keep in mind, those who are trafficking women, girls and boys are very aware of loopholes and cracks in our system. Clearly they are reading the news from Mosby’s office with great interest.
In Baltimore we have a VICE unit specifically focused on stopping sex trafficking. The unit also connects prostitutes to social services. If I reacted so viscerally to Mosby’s statement, I can only assume that our dedicated officers who focus on protecting vulnerable communities against sex trafficking must be alarmed.
As a nonprofit leader, I sit on the Baltimore Human Trafficking Collaborative, co-chaired by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett. In our meetings, I’ve heard from service providers that women engaging in prostitution are being raped more often and more brutally by their Johns. And because they have been conditioned to believe that it is their fault for selling sex as survival, and/or for drugs, they are afraid to report the sexual assaults against them. So, I must ask again, does prostitution pose no risk to public safety?
The fact is solicitation of sex poses a big public safety risk. And that is particularly true when COVID-19 is spreading so quickly.
Do I want prostitutes to be arrested? No, I want the VICE unit to continue to help them find social services. This population was vulnerable long before COVID-19. Let’s not abandon them now. Do I want the Johns arrested? I certainly don’t want Johns to think there would be no consequences for their actions which endanger the public’s safety.
— NATASHA GUYNES
The writer, a Democrat, is a candidate for the Baltimore City Council in District 10.