Rep. Lee to introduce legislation to decriminalize sex work in Pennsylvania

Proposed bill believed to be first of its kind in legislature’s history

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 16 – Believed to be the first of its kind in the General Assembly’s history, state Rep. Summer Lee has moved to introduce legislation that would decriminalize sex work in Pennsylvania.

“It is no secret that the criminalization of sex work compromises sex workers’ health and safety by driving sex work underground. Like other forms of prohibition, this puts industry workers in harm’s way without any of the basic protections, rights or benefits afforded to any other worker,” Lee said. “By taking the stigma and fear of arrest away, I believe that sex workers will feel more empowered and will be willing to come forward if they have been victims of sexual violence, trafficking, or need medical assistance due to their line of work.”

Lee introduced the concept of the legislation in a co-sponsorship memo to other legislators this week, seeking their support. She plans to introduce it soon, and said she is looking forward to starting a conversation – even if the bill doesn’t get a vote this legislative session.

Lee said while the legislation may be new to Pennsylvania, the concept is not, and studies have shown it can have benefits not just for workers, but society. When Rhode Island temporarily decriminalized sex work in the early 2000s, rates of sexually transmitted diseases fell, as well as cases of sexual violence -- as much as 30 percent. Studies in Pennsylvania have also shown the criminalization of sex work also disproportionally impacts poor Black women, who are seven times more likely to be arrested for sex work than non-Blacks and, as cases have evidenced, sex workers and not their customers are far more likely to face prosecution.

“We can no longer ignore the fact that sex work is work, however stigmatized – and that sex workers deserve the same protections as other workers,” Lee said. “As legislators, it is our duty to serve all of our constituents to the best of our ability, regardless of which profession they are in.”