Arrests Targeting Sex Work Threaten Public Health and Safety

September 12, 2016

Newark sweep part of increase in aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses

The ACLU of New Jersey expressed concerns about the Newark Police Department’s arrest of 13 people on charges of prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. The arrests over the weekend appear to be a part of a recent increase in the arrest of Newark residents for low level violations and so-called “quality-of-life” offenses, such as panhandling, bicycle violations, littering and disorderly conduct.

The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:

Udi Ofer

“The Newark Police Department’s 13 arrests on charges related to prostitution over the weekend raise concerns yet again about Newark’s embrace of failed and destructive 'Broken Windows' policing strategies. Using our criminal justice system to harass, arrest and incarcerate consenting adults who agree to exchange sex for money is a poor use of the NPD’s limited resources.

“These arrests harm public health by stigmatizing sex workers and making their lives more difficult and dangerous. These crackdowns harm public safety by stoking fear of police among sex workers, dissuading vulnerable communities from reaching out to police to report abuses.

"The NPD’s renewed focus on aggressive enforcement of low-level offenses runs counter to community-oriented policing, which should rely on alternatives to arrest and prosecution for low-level offenses like these. We urge the City to explore harm reduction in the interest of public health and to reject failed approaches of criminalization.

“The aggressive enforcement of low level offenses and implementation of a Broken Windows style policing philosophy in Newark run counter to a community-oriented policing model. The City of Newark should respond to complaints received from community members by focusing its resources on conditions that have led to situations where residents may turn to panhandling or sex work as a source of income, and not by arresting residents.

“Sex work should not be criminalized, but as long as it is still criminalized in Newark, the police department should choose to sow trust among the community rather than alienate some of the most vulnerable members whose actions should not be considered a crime to begin with.”

The ACLU-NJ issued a five-point blueprint earlier this summer emphasizing the most significant steps to rein in abuses among police departments, including decriminalizing low-level offenses and rejecting Broken Windows policing. In July, the ACLU-NJ also laid out its reasons for opposing the criminalization of sex work in a Star-Ledger op-ed.

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