Harris County D.A. Candidate Audia Jones Says She Won’t Prosecute Sex Work
The incumbent in the race, Jones’s former boss Kim Ogg, will not support a blanket refusal to prosecute sex workers, her office says.
Audia Jones, a former prosecutor who is campaigning to be the next district attorney in Houston, said this week that she would not prosecute sex work if elected.
In response to current Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s request for a budget increase of $7.4 million to hire more prosecutors, Jones said on Twitter that she would lower caseloads by declining to prosecute drug possession and offenses that target poverty. She later clarified that would include sex work.
“Why are we criminalizing people for making choices with their own bodies?” she said in an interview with The Appeal. “Sex work a lot of times is a choice, and when we’re talking about consenting individuals, this is what they choose to do. … I don’t think it’s something for the government to interfere.”
Prosecuting sex work also pushes victims of human trafficking, rape or domestic violence into the shadows because they become fearful of speaking to law enforcement, Jones said.
Jones noted that Harris County—the nation’s third largest county—is one of the worst when it comes to human trafficking, a point on which Ogg agrees. In a recent press conference after a 15-year-old girl who was the victim of sex trafficking died by suicide in the county, Ogg called Houston “ground zero for human trafficking.”
“Law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and a lot of community providers are really trying to change the paradigm for sex workers and for sex buyers and, most importantly, for sex traffickers,” Ogg said.
But Jaime Mercado, Ogg’s campaign director, told The Appeal that Ogg would not support a blanket refusal to prosecute sex workers. Instead, he said her office would continue to look for ways to divert sex workers into outside nonprofit organizations where they can get help.
“We’re fully aware that prosecution of sex workers does nothing,” he said. “It just keeps them in a cycle.”
“She’s concentrated on the pimps and the traffickers,” he added. “A lot of times when you bring in a sex worker, they’re not going to be cooperative because it’s a cycle of abuse, but the sex workers have been invaluable in producing evidence to convict the traffickers and the pimps.”
Jones questioned why Ogg, who calls herself a reformer, won’t oppose the prosecution of sex work altogether.
“It’s typical of our current district attorney to play the gray area,” Jones said. “When we do things like diversion or any type of probation, we are still criminalizing those individuals.”
Jones and Ogg, both Democrats, will appear on the March 2020 Democratic primary ballot. Ogg is facing multiple challengers, including former prosecutors Carvana Cloud and Todd Overstreet.
Earlier this week, a coalition of advocates, legal groups and a workers’ union wrote a letter to Harris County commissioners criticizing Ogg’s request for an expanded budget, her “overzealous prosecution” of low-level cases, opposition to a bail reform agreement and “inefficient use of prosecutorial resources,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Democrats on the County Commission previously denied her request for additional resources, choosing instead to increase funding for the public defender’s office.
Jones said that she would not support additional funding for the district attorney’s office. Instead, she would advocate for more resources for educational and job training programs, and mental health facilities and drug rehabilitation facilities.