Women With A Vision Executive Director Deon Haywood.
Image via The Louisiana Justice Institute.
A law that branded many sex workers in Louisiana as sex offenders has finally been changed. From The Louisiana Justice Institute:
Governor Jindall’s office announced today that he had signed into law a bill, sponsored by Louisiana State Representative Charmaine Marchand Stiaes, that effectively moves prostitution convictions back to the level of misdemeanor.
Previously, police officers and prosecutors in Louisiana had a choice between charging accused sex workers under the prostitution law, which was a misdemeanor, or under Louisiana’s 200-plus year-old “Crime Against Nature” law, a felony. That law was interpreted to apply specifically to solicitation for oral or anal sex, but in practice it meant police had ultimate discretion on who to charge with the greater offense.
Yep, a law that classified oral and anal sex as “crimes against nature.” Police and prosecutors could essentially target those they considered sexually deviant. In practice, the majority sentenced under the law were women of color, including trans women of color. They had to register as sex offenders, had the words “sex offender” printed on their ID, and had to inform their neighbors about the conviction.
The new law equalizes penalties with those under the state’s prostitution law. While ending a horrible practice, this does not change the convictions of those who have already been labeled sex offenders, something that still needs to happen.
This victory is the result of years of organizing by a number of groups led by Women With A Vision, which works with sex workers in New Orleans. Deon Haywood, the organization’s Executive Director, said of this important win:
For over two decades now, people – largely low-income women of color, including transgender women – have been branded with this scarlet letter simply because they were convicted under this archaic, discriminatory law. For the women I work with, and for LGBT young people, this has created an almost insurmountable barrier to much-needed housing, employment, treatment, and services. At long last, the legislature has equalized penalties for the two offenses going forward. But we will continue to fight for justice for all those still living under the penalties of the past. There is still serious work to be done.