Elizabeth Saracco holds a sign saying "We Stand with Monica Jones."
Elizabeth Saracco holds a sign saying "We Stand with Monica Jones."

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A handful of transgender-rights advocates stood with signs in front of the Wilson Building today—-the day that Monica Jones is set to go on trial in Arizona.  Jones, a black, transgender student at Arizona State University, is facing manifestation of prostitution charges, though she says she was arrested while walking to a local bar and was a victim of “walking while trans.”

Her story has become a rallying cry for transgender advocates nationwide, who say that vague prostitution laws unjustly allow the targeting of transgender women of color. And the advocates in front of the Wilson Building today say that things are no different in D.C.

On Tuesday, Councilman David Grosso introduced legislation that would eliminate D.C.’s “Prostitution Free-Zones.” This law enables police to make arrests for up to 24 consecutive days if two or more people congregate in public and ignore orders to disperse in these zones. The law has come under fire in the past, with the attorney general’s office saying that it is probably unconstitutional because police are arresting people with no real probable cause.

“We want D.C.’s support in repealing these prostitution free-zones that target trans-women of color,” says Elizabeth Saracco, director of programs at Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive in D.C.

Grosso wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Blade last week that the prostitution-free zones, and the “inevitable profiling that happens within them, violate affected residents’ human right to be free from discrimination.” He also said that police officials are in support of getting rid of the zones.

In a 2012 Post article, Assistant Police Chief Peter Newsham said although these zones may have contributed to the temporary displacement of street-level prostitution, they were ineffective in actually decreasing prostitution. At that time, he said that police had never made an arrest using the prostitution-free zone statute.

Grosso’s legislation—-which was also introduced by Councilmembers Mary Cheh and David Cataniaand co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marion Barry and Tommy Wells—-was referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

Photo by Perry Stein