Advocates Launch Petition to Decriminalize Sex Work in Oregon

The petition could become a sticking point in the gubernatorial race.

IMG_3014 As recently as 2007, 82nd Avenue was deemed a "prostitution-free zone." (Wesley Lapointe)

An advocacy group called the Sex Worker Rights Act campaign filed a petition Nov. 16 to decriminalize sex work in Oregon.

The act seeks to repeal Oregon’s prostitution laws and amend other relevant statutes. The petition also seeks to categorize sex workers as “employees” under Oregon law; protect people who are or once were sex workers from discrimination and retaliation in the workplace; and prevent a person’s past or present employment as a sex worker from being held against them in child custody disputes.

“Our current system is broken and harms sex workers,” the campaign’s political director, Anne Marie Bäckström, said in a statement this week. “It’s time for a new approach that puts the health and safety of workers first, and that’s exactly what the Sex Worker Rights Act will do. Sex workers deserve to do their job without fear of arrest or violence, and, like all workers, they deserve access to health care, labor protections, and public services.”

The petitioners must gather 112,020 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2022 ballot.

Should it qualify, the ballot measure could become a sticking point in the Oregon governor’s race. As WW reported earlier this month, candidate and former journalist Nicholas Kristof has faced criticism from sex workers for his extensive news coverage of the sex trade, and his support of a disputed legal framework for sex work known as the “Nordic Model”—which targets the clients of sex workers with criminal penalties.

The campaign’s chief petitioner is Aaron Boonshoft, described by the organization as “an Oregon philanthropist, an advocate of human rights, and a client of legal, consensual sex work.” Boonshoft, who is the son of a wealthy Ohio commodities trader, was also behind last year’s failed attempt to decriminalize sex work via House Bill 3088.

Related: An East Coast advocacy group is using Oregon as a testing ground for decriminalizing sex work.

“Sex worker rights are human rights, and the denial of those rights enables human trafficking,” Boonshoft said in a statement. “The Sex Worker Rights Act would decriminalize sex work in Oregon for consenting adults, making them safer, and aiding in the fight against actual human trafficking. It’s time that we work together in Oregon to improve access to health, justice, and safety for everyone.”

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.