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A response to sex worker activists pondering how to respond to “partial decriminalization” proposal

Date: May 11, 2023

Below is written as part of an email in response to sex worker activists pondering how they should respond to a State bill for “partial decriminalization” of sex trade, i.e. the proposal to decriminalize commercial sale of sex but not purchase or facilitation of it, often promoted as “Nordic model,” “End Demand,” or “Equality Model.”


I would apply the principle of non-reformist reforms promoted by Critical Resistance and others in the prison abolitionist movement. I believe that there is a way partial decriminalization can provide material benefits without increasing harm or further entrenching surveillance, policing, and control of our lives, but most such proposals fail to do so in fact.

My approach is not to support or oppose partial decriminalization per se, but to establish conditions under which such proposal can be considered a non-reformist reform. We would set up criteria, such as:

  • The proposal must provide material relief to people who are currently harmed.
  • The proposal must most benefit people experiencing most marginalization.
  • The proposal must not take away or reduce rights and autonomy of people who are affected.
  • The proposal must not increase surveillance, policing, and control over people who are affected.
  • The proposal must not legitimize or expand the system that is currently causing the harm.
  • The proposal must give more voice to impacted communities and create a room for further organizing.

These are just examples, and should be further developed. That said, we need to force this conversation on people who support further empowering the very institutions that they acknowledge have caused and continue to cause harms.

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