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Decriminalizing prostitution in Illinois proposed; lawmaker shocked at idea

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(The Center Square) – Prostitution is illegal in all states except certain parts of Nevada. Illinois legislators and LGBTQ advocates pushed for the state to decriminalize prostitution at a news conference Wednesday.

Equality Illinois board member and former sex worker Reyna Ortiz said the criminalization of adults engaging consensually in sex work is what makes the line of work so dangerous.

“Like anyone else going to work, it’s important to be safe and feel protected under the law. The decriminalization of sex work is providing safety for adults who engage in consensual sex,” Ortiz said. “No longer should sex workers be forced into the darkness of this society. Our hope is no matter how you feel about sex work, you share our belief that no sex worker should be assaulted, victimized or killed simply for simply engaging in adult-consenusal sex work, the world’s oldest profession. Decriminalization is finally giving safety and bodily autonomy to adults who consensually engage.”

At the news conference, advocates highlighted that LGBTQ individuals die disproportionately in this line of work. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 32 transgender and gender expansive people were killed in 2023 and most of those homicide victims were killed by “Johns” or pimps.

State Rep. John Cabello, a detective for the Rockford Police Department, said it’s not criminalizing prostitution that causes the line of work to be dangerous but rather it’s the lifestyle itself.

“It’s the drugs, the lifestyle and the pimps. It has nothing to do with the law on the books,” Cabello said. “If that’s the case, then why aren’t there other people getting beat up for all of the other laws that are on the books? It means as though certain people in this state want to make it where we don’t have any penalty for anything you do wrong.”

Cabello said many prostitutes use sex work to financially support drug addictions.

“Are we saying, ‘yeah OK, go ahead, go do what you wish to do.’ I am shocked,” said Cabello.

He said “Johns” and pimps often beat prostitutes. Pimps tend to beat up prostitutes more. Cabello raised questions like: under this bill, are they going to require an application process for “Johns?” Are we going to allow brothels?

“I would assume the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] would be strictly opposed to this … because they don’t want law enforcement to do background checks on people so why would they allow private industries to do background checks on people,” said Cabello. “The whole thing is pie-in-the-sky stuff that they’re saying is, ‘oh it’s going to work out great.’ No, it’s not.”

No bill has been introduced yet, Brian Johnson, the CEO of Equality Illinois, said. The non-profit’s goal is finding the “right time” to introduce a bill. Equality Illinois’ largest priority is to decriminalize sex work. Johnson suggested the yet-to-be introduced legislation would look at sex workers partnering with police. Johnson also suggested it would allow sex workers to vet their clients.

Equality Illinois wants to decriminalize prostitution, “so that sex workers can fully vet their clients and meet them in places of their choosing, where they [sex workers] can partner with police if they want to ensure their safety. So that we are not using taxpayer dollars taken from kitchen tables and taken from Illinois homes to go after people engaged in adult consensual sex,” Johnson said.

Cabello said he couldn’t believe there was even a news conference on decriminalizing sex work.