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Washtenaw County prosecutor will no longer prosecute 'consensual' sex work

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Washtenaw County's new prosecutor is decriminalizing "consensual sex work," his office announced Thursday.

Prosecutor Eli Savit announced in a press release that his office is ending the practice of prosecuting sex workers who engage in consensual sex.

"The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office is well aware that sex work carries an increased risk for violence, human trafficking, and coercion. Data and experience, however, have shown that criminalizing sex work does little to alleviate those harms," Savit said in the statement. "Indeed the criminalization of sex work actually increases the risk of sex work adjacent harm. Accordingly, the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office will henceforth decline to bring charges related to consensual sex work per se. The Prosecutor’s Office, however, will continue to charge sex work-adjacent crime — including human trafficking, violence, and offenses involving children — that directly harm county residents."

Efforts to reach Savit for further comment Thursday were not successful.

Elected in November, Savit said with the exception of Nevada, sex work is generally criminalized in the United States but that "America’s prohibitionist stance on sex work is increasingly out of step with international norms. Consensual sex work is legal — at least in some form — in nearly 100 countries across the globe."

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit

Savit added the laws against "consensual" sex work conflict with the U.S. constitution as adults have a right to "engage in private conduct" such as sex.

​Savit added that "Laws banning consensual sex between adults thus generally violate the United States ConstitutionIt is only when sex is exchanged for money that such activity may be banned. But even once money enters the equation, sex is not consistently criminalized."

In Oakland County, Chief Assistant Prosecutor David Williams told The News Thursday that while his office's main focus is human trafficking, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald will be "rolling out" policy changes in prosecutions.

"I applaud what (Savit) is doing and he certainly is headed in the right direction," said Williams. "There's no question. There absolutely will be changes (in Oakland County)."

Last week, Savit made headlines when he announced his office would end cash bail for defendants, saying the practice punishes the poor.

"America’s system of cash bail is unfair, inequitable, and imposes severe harm on communities," Savit said last week. "Cash bail is a system under which a defendant who has been accused of a crime is required to post money in order to secure release from jail pending trial. Importantly, cash bail forces defendants to pay for their release before they have been convicted. In function, then, cash bail imposes pre-conviction punishment on criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay."

Savit is a faculty member at the University of Michigan Law School. A former school teacher, he also is a former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In Michigan, the criminal penalty for prostitution ranges from a misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine, to a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $2,000 fine.