The problem of making sex work a sexual offense.

Just when you think that the human rights of sex workers aren’t violated enough, take a look at this centuries-old law that allows sex workers to be branded as sex offenders.

New Orleans city police and the district attorney’s office are using a state law written for child molesters to charge hundreds of sex workers like Tabitha as sex offenders. The law, which dates back to 1805, makes it a crime against nature to engage in “unnatural copulation”–a term New Orleans cops and the district attorney’s office have interpreted to mean anal or oral sex. Sex workers convicted of breaking this law are charged with felonies, issued longer jail sentences and forced to register as sex offenders. They must also carry a driver’s license with the label “sex offender” printed on it.
Of the 861 sex offenders currently registered in New Orleans, 483 were convicted of a crime against nature, according to Doug Cain, a spokesperson with the Louisiana State Police. And of those convicted of a crime against nature, 78 percent are Black and almost all are women.
The law impacts sex workers in both small and large ways.
Tabitha has to register an address in the sex offender database, and because she doesn’t have a permanent home, she has registered the address of a nonprofit organization that is helping her. She also has to purchase and mail postcards with her picture to everyone in the neighborhood informing them of her conviction. If she needs to evacuate to a shelter during a hurricane, she must evacuate to a special shelter for sex offenders, and this shelter has no separate safe spaces for women. She is even prohibited from very ordinary activities in New Orleans like wearing a costume at Mardi Gras.

This is one of the best articles I have seen that has brought an intersectional lens to this aspect of sex work. This article uses intersectionality to explore the plight of how members of our society who are already marginalized face additional discrimination by the criminal justice system as sex workers. Intersectionality is an important device in this piece because it allows for us to view the current marginalization of sex workers in the context WOC and transgender women live.


On many fronts, transgender women and WOC–whether they are sex workers or not–have their rights to sexual privacy contested. This can be seen in the incessant, inappropriate line of questioning transgender folks face about their sexuality or the way Black women’s sexuality has been demonized when black women have non-traditional paths to motherhood. All in all, violations against the sexual privacy of WOC and transgender women are countless.
As the writer tells the story of these women, she attempts to offer them redress by granting them some modicum of privacy that has been taken away by a punitive, unjust system. One example of this is the writer grants the sex workers’ request to not reveal their first and last names in an environment where the state has effectively revoked these women’s rights to privacy, and particularly sexual privacy, simply because they have engaged in sex work.
Time will tell whether next month’s Mayoral elections in New Orleans will yield an elected official that reappoints a police chief that views these “unnatural copulation” laws on the books as antiquated and therefore not worth enforcing. However, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a feminist favorite around these parts, has a partner that is running for mayor in New Orleans, James Perry. He vows to reduce crime by 40 percent. Ostensibly, this will involve some level of decriminalization. At this point, this issue is impossible to take a public position on as a candidate.
But, if I was a betting woman, I would guess his commitment to civil rights makes him the most likely to be sympathetic with the unfortunate plight of New Orleans’ sex workers.

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Dear Betsy DeVos: Fighting for Survivors of Sexual Violence Is a Racial Justice Fight

For the past few months, I’ve seen several articles — almost exclusively written by white women — arguing that we shouldn’t enforce Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault because the authors believe Black men are more likely to be accused. The narrative has been picked up by numerous media outlets and used by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to strip protections for survivors.

The idea that survivors’ rights are a threat to Black men leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Let me be clear: that’s not because I’m not worried about race discrimination in school discipline. We have no data to support the argument that Black men are more likely to be accused of or ...

For the past few months, I’ve seen several articles — almost exclusively written by white women — arguing that we shouldn’t enforce Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault because the authors ...

A women in a headscarf holds a child next to a military tank.

A Feminist’s Veterans Day Reading List

This Veterans Day, we’re honoring those injured, sexually abused, and killed by and within the United States military — and celebrating those organizing to prevent future violence.

This past year, thousands of veterans leveraged their social capital (and put their bodies on the line) to support people of color organizing at home. Over 4,000 veterans joined Native Americans at Standing Rock last winter to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, rise against fellow military members attacking civilians, and seek forgiveness for past and current military violence against Native Americans. Others joined Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality: read this interview with former Army Ranger Rory Fanning about protesting the military and why Fanning was on anti-recruitment tour of the Chicago Public Schools.

Veterans who are survivors ...

This Veterans Day, we’re honoring those injured, sexually abused, and killed by and within the United States military — and celebrating those organizing to prevent future violence.

This past year, thousands of veterans leveraged their social capital (and put ...