Louisiana ends sex offender registration for sex workers

Deon Haywood
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.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/1ah11/ 1ah11

    Could someone possibly give me the cliffnotes version of the feminist perspective of sex workers? I’m uneducated on the topic, and I think it’s really interesting. Thanks!

  • http://feministing.com/members/ashley88/ Ashley Bennett

    From what I remember from my Intro to Feminist Theory class, there are a couple distinct perspectives: the anti-sex work/pornography movement tends to be completely against sex work because of its degrading nature and link to violence against women. There is another camp which looks more favorably on sex work, either as an expression of sexuality or career choice, but that seeks to increase the safety of the work. For example, those in camp “a” would want to get rid of strip clubs, those in camp “b” would want to provide safe working conditions and fair wages (etc…) to those working in strip clubs. Those in camp “b” would also argue that sex work is something that should be freely chosen, which is currently not always the case as it can be forced, coerced, or chosen based on a lack of resources and options. This is a very simplified example of a very complex issue to which many people fall in the middle of, but I hope that helps.

  • http://feministing.com/members/linnetlynet/ Lynet

    Congratulations to Women With A Vision for this important victory. I first read about this months ago on The Curvature and I’m so glad progress has been made. It’s a real victory for women of color and for justice.

    Hopefully further progress will allow those women who have already been branded sex offenders to get the classification removed.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rockwellwill/ Will

    I just wanted to point out what readers could do to support WWAV in their effort to get all people with CANS convictions off the registry: donate! Spread the word!

    This is a tremendous victory, and a testament to the power of dedicated and determined grassroots advocacy on the part of Deon Haywood and WWAV. But the fight is far from over, because people with prior convictions must still fight for the removal of registry requirements and Doe v. Jindal court support is still needed. Please take a moment to donate to WWAV in order to help reach the goal of $5,000 by July 15th to bring much needed resources to continue the fight against the ongoing effects of this harsh and discriminatory law!

    Follow the link here to donate: http://widget.chipin.com/widget/id/c4dda4695ac16bc1

    Please take a moment to donate to WWAV in order to help reach the goal of $5,000 by July 15th to bring much needed resources to continue the fight against the ongoing effects of this harsh and discriminatory law. WWAV will use these funds to respond to the calls flooding its offices in the wake of passage of the bill, and to advocate on behalf of hundreds of people who continue to be required to register as sex offenders despite this welcome change in the law. Currently, 40 percent of people on the Orleans Parish sex offender registry are there solely as a result of a CANS conviction. What can you do to support WWAV?

    1. Donate to WWAV today by clicking on ChipIn above. Even $5 will make a world of difference.
    2. Embed the ChipIn application on your social media accounts
    3. Forward this email blast to friends and allies

    Organizing and advocacy work from the grassroots is what prompted the Doe v. Jindal lawsuit and spurred Louisiana Rep. Marchand-Stiaes to introduce legislation to correct this injustice. This fundraiser will help those communities most impacted see this fight through to the end: poor Black women, including transgender women, and gay men who are – or are profiled as – working in the sex trades who are already on the registry as a result of a CANS conviction. Only with your help can WWAV sustain itself in the long fight to erase all of the effects of this law.

    * $25-100 would provide funds needed to help women most impacted to participate in events, outreach, and advocacy.
    * $250 would fund the publication of outreach and advocacy materials.
    * $500 would fund self and community advocacy training for women most impacted.
    * $1,000 would provide office and operating costs to answer calls pouring in from individuals directly affected by this law who continue to have to register.
    * $2,500 would pay for state-wide advocacy efforts to leverage change on behalf of those already on the registry due to a conviction of crime against nature by solicitation.
    * $5,000 would cover costs for one part-time organizer to work with people already on the registry due to a SCAN conviction to advocate for removal from the registry.