A bill that would repeal laws against sex‐work, overturn convictions, and expunge records is currently making its way through the Massachusetts State Legislature: in addition to striking laws prohibiting sex‐work by consenting adults, H.1867 would expunge criminal records related to marijuana offenses:
Any person having a record of criminal court appearances and dispositions in the commonwealth…for a marijuana offense…or prostitution‐related offenses…shall have all such records expunged forthwith from all criminal record information systems collected or distributed by any state agency, court or municipality.
A remarkably similar bill is currently under consideration in Oregon. HB 3088 decriminalizes both the sale and purchase of sex while preserving penalties for sex trafficking activities.
Should either measure pass, it would represent a significant shift in the public attitude towards sex‐work. In recent years several municipalities – including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Manhattan – have stopped prosecuting prostitution‐related offenses and, in some cases, expunging records. Research shows positive effects of legalization or decriminalization, including lower incidence of crime and better public health outcomes.
Criminalizing prostitution brings unnecessary harm to already vulnerable populations. The activities of consenting adults should be between them, not arbitrated by the government. Removing these unnecessary laws from state codes will improve the health and liberty of all while eliminating yet another excuse to criminalize targeted populations.