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Open Society Foundations

Last month, Amnesty International issued a resolution calling for the decriminalization of sex work.

In many parts of the world — including the vast majority of the U.S. — certain forms of sex work are criminalized. Amnesty joins a long list of human rights organizations in calling for the decriminalization of consensual sex work worldwide, including the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, Human Rights Watch, and the Open Society Foundations.


This is big news for sex workers and their clientele, but why should those of us who are neither sex workers nor clients support them in pushing governments to decriminalize? Here are four reasons to join the fight.

1. Decriminalization can improve policing and boost trust in law enforcement.

For some time, police in a number of cities have been known to confiscate condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. There are any number of reasons someone might carry condoms (say, for instance, they plan to have sex?), not all of which are to engage in sex work.

All images via iStock.

In 2013, a black transgender woman named Monica Jones was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona.

She was charged with what a local statute calls "manifesting prostitution," but others came up with what some might argue is a more accurate name: walking while trans.

In Phoenix, a local ordinance gives police the authority to arrest a person for stopping to talk to someone on the street or sidewalk, for asking someone if they are a police officer, or for accepting a ride from someone an officer believes to be a stranger.

A study of a similar ordinance in Brooklyn found that 94% of those arrested for "loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution" were black. In 2011 alone, around 57,000 people were arrested on these types of charges — which, again, aren't for engaging in a form of sex work but for simply fitting a profile of what a sex worker looks like in the mind of the arresting officer.

So long as sex workers — as well as those who fit the profile of sex workers — feel like their existence is in itself a crime, they're less likely to trust law enforcement. Decriminalizing sex work provides a pathway to better policing for us all.

2. It will improve public health and reduce the spread of HIV.

One of the most common arguments people make in trying to justify keeping sex work criminalized is an old talking point that decriminalization of sex work would lead to an increase in HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In reality, the opposite is true.

In a study published last year by The Lancet, researchers estimate that decriminalization of sex work worldwide would result in a 33% to 46% decrease in new HIV infections.

How? Well, as addressed earlier, so long as police officers use condoms as evidence in cases against sex workers, workers will be less likely to carry prophylactics, leading to an increase in the number of unprotected or under-protected acts. Couple that with an understandable fear of getting tested for STIs, and the spread of these diseases will continue both inside and out of the sex worker community.

3. It can help improve working conditions.

People in favor of keeping sex work criminalized frequently bring up points about the poor working conditions, danger, and harassment workers face. Their solution boils down to this: If sex work wasn't a viable option, the women involved would be saved ... but then what?

Are working conditions that much better in other service industry jobs? Not really. Take, for example, the life of a waitress.

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a study that showed 37% of all sexual harassment claims came from the restaurant industry (despite the fact that just 7% of women work in it). That's both disproportionately high and takes the honor of being the worst of any sector of the workforce.

If poor working conditions are enough to criminalize a profession, then the service industry as a whole would be long gone.

Decriminalization has the added benefit of deterring violence against women. For example, in New Zealand, decriminalization has improved workers' ability to screen clients, access security services, and (going back to the first point) reach out to police if they become victims of violence.

4. It means freedom of choice.

If two consenting adults want to exchange money for sexual services, then who are any of us to stop them? Prostitution is a crime based almost entirely on one's own moral hangups.

Policing personal morality is in poor taste. Why should it be any of our business what consenting adults choose to do? It's not as though they're harming others. In this case, the argument against sex work is similar to the argument against same-sex marriage: if you're not involved, it doesn't affect you, so why is it your business?

You don't think sex work is morally permissible? Then don't be a sex worker. You don't think it's morally acceptable to pay for sex? Then don't visit a sex worker. You can make these decisions on your own without the threat of jail time.

For more great reasons to get involved with the fight for decriminalization, check out this guide from the Open Society Foundations.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

via Pexels

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Photo by TR on Unsplash

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