Sex Workers: Columbus Vice Squad=A Whole Barrel Of Bad Apples?

SAN FRANCISCO—The Erotic Service Providers Legal Education and Research Project (ESPLERP), a sex worker activist group, has noted that a federal grand jury has unsealed a seven-count indictment against a Columbus Ohio vice officer, Andrew Mitchell, who is charged with kidnapping women "under the guise of an arrest" and forcing victims "to engage in sex for their freedom." The charges appear to be related to an ongoing investigation by an FBI Task Force into the Columbus PD's Vice Unit.

Those following the Stormy Daniels saga will recall that she was arrested while performing at Sirens, an adult nightclub in Columbus last July, though charges were later dismissed, and at least one of the arresting officers was accused of having made the arrest because Daniels was then in the process of suing President Donald Trump.

“This is what the criminalization of prostitution does: corrupt cops,” charged Maxine Doogan of ESPLERP. “The Columbus PD will claim Mitchell is a single ‘bad apple,’ but ‘rape by cop’ is baked into the structure of how cops police prostitution. This is just the tip of the iceberg. You can look forward to more cases like this in police departments nationwide.”

Many sex workers perform sex work to survive or support their families. The criminalization of prostitution doesn’t address workers' material needs, and makes them vulnerable to violence. Even though police brutality and harassment of sex workers is commonplace, society generally turns a blind eye. In a 2008 survey, nearly 20 percent of sex workers who were approached by police were asked for sex by the officer. In 2017, as many as 30 Bay Area law enforcement officers had sex with a teenage prostitute, some while she was still a minor. In 2018, two trans sex workers reported that officers in DC and Prince George’s County were using the threat of arrest to coerce them into having sex.

 “The problem here is the criminalization of sex work, which encourages corruption in police departments,” said Reada Wong of ESPLERP. “Nobody will be safe until sex work is decriminalized, and cops can’t exploit sex workers or their clients under the guise of enforcing bad laws."

Police should not be wasting time arresting adults engaged in consensual sexual activities. ESPLERP applauds the efforts of Decrim NY in New York State and DECRIMNOW DC in Washington, D.C. to decriminalize sex work, and encourages legislators in all 50 states to follow suit and decriminalize sex work immediately for the public’s health and safety.

ESPLERP is a diverse community-based coalition advancing sexual privacy rights through litigation, education, and research. They may be supported at

Pictured, l-r: Maxine Doogan, Stormy Daniels