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Clark County DA candidate: ‘I will refuse to prosecute sex work’

Updated June 10, 2022 - 5:06 pm

A former state legislator running for Clark County district attorney has said that if he is elected, he will not prosecute sex workers accused of prostitution-related crimes.

Ozzie Fumo, 56, has positioned himself as a progressive candidate with an emphasis on ending the death penalty in Nevada. He will be facing off with 67-year-old incumbent Steve Wolfson, who has served as district attorney for 10 years, in the Democratic primary on June 14.

Although the list of campaign issues on Fumo’s website does not mention prostitution, he posted on Twitter last week that he “will refuse to prosecute sex work, because sex work is work.”

“Let me make this crystal clear: I will absolutely prosecute human traffickers and anyone who commits a violent crime in Clark County,” Fumo wrote in a follow-up tweet. “Decriminalizing sex work is a critical aspect of protecting sex workers from human trafficking and abuse.”

Fumo did not reply to requests for comment.

Richard Metzler, a member of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Citizen Review Board, wrote in a tweet to Fumo that he was concerned that halting prosecutions “will result in significantly less opportunities to find and prosecute sex traffickers.”

Wolfson sent a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday that said promising not to prosecute sex workers makes Fumo “utterly out of touch with public safety.” He also pointed to crimes other than prostitution that he said are associated with sex work.

“So-called ‘sex workers,’ better known as prostitutes, commit serious felony crimes on a daily basis,” Wolfson wrote. “Tourists and locals alike are victimized by sex-workers who drug them and steal their property. It is a huge problem in the tourist corridor.”

Prostitution at licensed brothels is legal in Nevada, but only in counties with populations of less than 700,000, which excludes Clark County.

Amy-Marie Merrell, the executive director of the Cupcake Girls, a nonprofit that supports people in the sex industry in Las Vegas and Portland, Oregon, said prosecuting prostitution-related crimes “actively harms” the organization’s clients. Merrell said that if sex workers are afraid of being arrested, they are less likely to report sexual assault or human trafficking to the police.

“We believe that trafficking is a human rights violation, and sex workers can be allies in fighting trafficking,” she said. “But despite this, laws criminalizing sex work are promoted as a successful way to combat trafficking, and in our continued research, we’ve found quite the opposite.”

National progressive organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union also have argued that removing criminal penalties for prostitution-related crimes would allow sex workers to report abuse and access health care and other services without fearing arrest.

The two district attorney candidates have exchanged criticisms throughout the race. Fumo has accused Wolfson of issuing “sweetheart deals” in high-profile cases throughout his tenure, and criticized the incumbent for dropping out of a candidate forum in March.

Meanwhile, Wolfson has criticized Fumo for remarks he made during an October panel at Boyd Law School, during which he referred to Nevada Supreme Court Justice Douglas Herndon as a “white supremacist” when discussing an incident in 2016 in which the judge asked a public defender to remove a “Black Lives Matter” pin.

Wolfson is endorsed by Nevada’s major police unions, including the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, which covers the Metropolitan Police Department’s rank-and-file officers.

Fumo has received endorsements from organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Nevada chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the Real Justice PAC. He is also endorsed by multiple labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union, Local 1107, and the Clark County Education Association.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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