News & Opinion | January 15, 2021 10:55 am

Sex Work Will No Longer Be Prosecuted in This Michigan County

Eli Savit's new policy reflects changing attitudes toward sex work, ones that will hopefully become more popular among other lawmakers and enforcers

Wooden court gavel on black background
Sex work will not be prosecuted under Eli Savit's office
Getty Images

Local prosecutor Eli Savit has declared sex work will no longer be prosecuted under his office in Washtenaw County, Michigan.

“Criminalization can lead to violence. Criminalization can lead to murder,” Savit, who took office earlier this month, told Vice News. “These are lessons that we’ve learned over and over again from, for example, the prohibition of alcohol and the war on drugs. Whenever you criminalize something, it takes place in the shadows. People are less likely to come forward to report adjacent harm. And people end up losing their lives.”

Savit’s office will not pursue charges for consensual sex work among adults, though the prosecutor noted his office would still pursue cases involving “a planned exchange of sex for money” when violence or sexual assault occur. Cases involving human trafficking, minors and “other charges not covered by this policy” will also still be prosecuted.

As far as a consensual exchange of sex for money among adults goes, however, Savit’s office will look the other way. The prosecutor also said his office will not contest appeals for expungement from those previously punished for engaging in sex work.

“We looked at the research, and we looked at the data, and we looked at what subject matter experts — and those who work directly with sex workers and with trafficked people — were telling us, which is that criminalization harms sex workers,” Savit told Vice.

Experts are hopeful Savit’s policy represents a shift in attitudes toward sex work and prosecution that will catch on among other prosecutors. “I think the policy Savit has announced is another sign that the prosecutor movement is widening its ambitions,” David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford Law School professor who studies prosecutors, told Vice. “What it means to be a progressive prosecutor is changing; the bar is moving upwards.”

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