HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kristen DiAngelo has worked in many aspects of the sex trade since the 1970s. She knows the stigma that trails those who've chosen prostitution as a profession.
"Society doesn't view us as human," she said matter-of-factly.
DiAngelo co-founded SWOP Sacramento, an organization that advocates for labor rights for sex workers. She travels the country urging states to decriminalize prostitution.
"We're just like everybody else. This is a work choice. It's a labor industry. People don't often hear our voices because of the backlash we encounter when we are vocal," she said.
DiAngelo believes unlike legalizing prostitution where law governs the industry, decriminalization would simply set labor standards and enable sex workers to earn a living without fear of breaking the law.
"It allows independent workers to decide that they want to go into an industry and work," she said. "Many times those workers may not have any other avenue to earn money.
But Khara Jabola-Carolus of the Hawaii feminist organization Af3irm said decriminalizing prostitution hasn't worked in countries where it's been tried.
"We think we should do away with stale ideas like the sex-worker movement that pushes failed strategies and a misunderstanding of prostitution," she said.
DiAngelo also thinks prostitutes should be allowed to advertise their services on the internet rather than stand on street corners. She believes that would protect prostitutes from predatory customers and could strike a blow against sex trafficking by taking pimps out of the equation.
"The idea of harm reduction has to do with how can we make sure that they're safe, they're alive, our communities are safe, where the least harm happens to everybody," DiAngelo said.
"I believe realistically the only thing that would make a difference is decriminalizing it. it would make us feel safer to reach out for help when we need it," said Shawnie, a woman DiAngelo helped rescue from sex trafficking.
But Jabola-Carolus said decriminalization would only keep prostitutes in bondage to those who would exploit their bodies..
"It's about focusing on men's access to womens' bodies, making sure we protect women from having to be there, because most don't want to be there," she said.
DiAngelo will present her ideas as a panelist at the "Deconstructing Sex Work and Sex Trafficking" conference Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ala Moana Hotel.
Click the above link to register for the event.