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Louisiana Overhaul of Discriminatory Law: Hundreds Cleared from Sex Offender List
Community groups and lawyers deal blow to the state's over 100 year-old 'Crimes Against Nature' law
June 13, 2013
Over 700 people accused of selling or soliciting sex for money were wiped from the sex offender registry in Louisiana last night after a historic settlement to beat back the state's archaic 'Crimes Against Nature' laws.
The development marked a huge victory for sex workers, members of the LGBTQ community, poor people, and women, who disproportionately bore the brunt of a law that slapped heavy punishments on accused sex workers.
The victory came after Women with a Vision, BreakOUT!, and the Center for Constitutional Rights worked with affected communities to file a class action lawsuit.
"Yesterday when I heard, I was so excited. This was a grassroots, queer-led, effort. People were screaming for change, and they won," declared Deon Haywood, executive director of New Orleans-based Women with a Vision.
Louisiana's Crime Against Nature by Solicitation (CANS), was created in the late 1800s to criminalize sexual devience, and today targets the selling of oral or anal sex for a fee.
Before 2011, police had full discretion over whether to charge accused sex workers with prostitution, which results in a misdemeanor, or CANS, which mandates registration as a sex offender.
In practice — and particularly in New Orleans, whose police department is currently under a federal consent decree for discriminatory practices — that has meant the disproportionate charging of people of color and LGBT people for “crimes against nature.” The Department of Justice report on discrimination in the New Orleans Police Department noted that “in particular, transgender women complained that NOPD officers improperly target and arrest them for prostitution, sometimes fabricating evidence of solicitation for compensation. Moreover, transgender residents reported that officers are likelier, because of their gender identity, to charge them under the state’s ‘crimes against nature’ statute — a statute whose history reflects anti-LGBT sentiment.”
"There is a thing called guilty of walking while transgender," explained Haywood.
The Center for Constitutional Rights explains that sex offender status heavily penalizes already marginal communities.
People affected by this law have been barred from homeless shelters, physically threatened, and refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities. As in the earlier case, all plaintiffs in this action proceeded anonymously for fear of retaliation.
A federal judge last year ruled that forcing people convicted of CANS to register as sex offenders violates their constitutional rights. Yet, when hundreds remained on the registry after this federal ruling, community organizations worked with the affected community and lawyers to file the class action lawsuit that was settled last was settled last night.
Community groups explain that the victory was won by people directly affected by the law. "This case would move forward by people standing in their truth and sharing their stories," explains Deon Haywood, whose organizatin takes on issues of Sex Worker Rights, Drug Policy Reform, HIV Positive Women’s Advocacy, and Reproductive Justice outreach, according to their website.
"We did something people said we couldn't do," says Haywood. "They said we couldn't organize the population represented in this case. They said we couldn't win because of who we were. People say change doesn't happen in the south. But it just did." Common Dreams
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The Centre For Constitutional Rights has this, endorsing as it does, everything I said in my previous article.
In Louisiana, people accused of soliciting sex for a fee can be criminally charged in two ways: either under the prostitution statute, or under the solicitation provision of the Crime Against Nature statute. This archaic statute, adopted in 1805, outlaws “unnatural carnal copulation,” which has been defined by Louisiana courts as oral and anal (but not vaginal) sex. Police and prosecutors have unfettered discretion in choosing which to charge. But a Crime Against Nature conviction subjects people to far harsher penalties than a prostitution conviction. Most significantly, individuals convicted of a Crime Against Nature are forced to register as sex offenders.
The registry law imposes many harsh requirements that impacts every aspect of our clients’ lives. For example, they must carry a state driver’s license or non-drivers’ identification document which brands them as a sex offender in bright orange capital letters. They must disclose the fact that they are registered as a sex offender to neighbors, landlords, employers, schools, parks, community centers, and churches. Their names, address, and photographs appear on the internet.
Many of our clients have been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several have been barred from homeless shelters. One has been physically threatened by neighbors. And another has been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept sex offenders at their facilities. more