The Harms of Legalizing and Fully Decriminalizing the Sex Trade:

Embracing the Equality Model Approach

About the Author 

Elizabeth Quiroz is an author, and graduate of Sonoma State University, with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology, and a graduate of Arizona State University, with a Master of Arts degree in Social Justice and Human Rights with distinction. Her goal is to become a Human Rights Activist where she can help make a positive impact on the lives of those transitioning through the justice system. As Elizabeth pursues this goal, she also serves as a Social Worker who assists adults and children through the Child Welfare System at Dependency Legal Services in Santa Rosa, California, and she serves as a human trafficking victim advocate. 

Elizabeth's passion for helping those who have experienced human trafficking has led her to start a nonprofit organization, Redemption House of The Bay Area, that will open a safe-house for human trafficking victims in Sonoma County.  Elizabeth does all of this while working with her husband, José "Mico" Quiroz to raise their children, and working to raise awareness about human trafficking and its long-term impact on the lives of girls and women in communities across the country.

Elizabeth's passion and determination are fueled by her experience as a human trafficking survivor. Elizabeth was both labor and sex trafficked over a period of 12 years from ages 15 to 26. After her last incarceration due to crimes committed under her trafficker, Elizabeth found a desire to help young women at risk.

Elizabeth's service to the community began upon her enrollment at Santa Rosa Junior College volunteering for the Bear Cub Scholar Program for foster youth. She soon became President of the Second Chance Club, an onsite support program for formerly incarcerated students.

On Christmas Eve 2018, Elizabeth received an Unconditional Governor's Pardon (Restoration of Civil Rights) from Governor Jerry Brown through the support of numerous community leaders.

Elizabeth is a sought after speaker and presents on various topics, including Criminal Records Expungement, Addiction Recovery, and Human Trafficking. Among her audiences are; Sonoma County Jail GED graduates, female inmates at Folsom State Prison, the California Violence Prevention Network annual conference, the Placerville Summit Child and Family Services, Lake County Tribal Health, the San Mateo women's correctional facility, SRJC Latinx graduation, the Santa Rosa Junior College President's Address to the Community, and more recently, San Mateo Sheriff Corpus Inauguration into Office. She also presents at the SRJC Human Trafficking Awareness and Women's History Month events. As a mentor, Elizabeth works with at-risk youth from multiple organizations including, Seneca, Valley of the Moon, and Juvenile Probation.

Elizabeth's new memoir, Purified in the Flame, is about her testimony and how she was able to break from and overcome the effects of human trafficking, addiction, incarceration and a broken foster care system. She is now using her pain for purpose, and showing other survivors that they, too, can use their voice to make a difference.

Elizabeth currently serves as a member of the Sonoma County Human Trafficking Task Force, and founded and co-facilitates Sonoma County's first Peer-Led Human Trafficking support group for victims and survivors. Elizabeth coordinates a monthly street outreach program for human trafficking victims, working to provide them a path to exit the control of their perpetrators safely. 

Elizabeth is a recipient of several recognitions including; the 2019 American Red Cross Humanitarian Hero Award, the 2019 Achievement and Community Service Award from the Sonoma County Lowrider Council, the 2021 Inaugural Spirit of Sonoma County Award from Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women, the 2022 Sonoma County Woman of The Year Award from Congressman Mike Thompson, the 2022 Alumni Changemaker Award from 10,000 Degrees, and was selected as one of the 2019 Faces of Sonoma State University recognizing students for sharing their unique story and their on-campus leadership and contributions to the campus community. Elizabeth recently received the inaugural SFF’s Phyllis K Friedman – Retha Smith Robinson Community Leadership Award, and was recognized as an emerging woman-of-color leader under 40 in San Mateo County.


I am discussing the harmful effects of legalizing and fully decriminalizing the sex trade, how it will lead to an increase in the amount of people who are trafficked, and exploring how an equality model approach could be implemented to decriminalize victims while still holding exploiters accountable. 

In addition, I would like to talk about the equality model and how, as opposed to the full decriminalization approach, it will assist those who have been victimized by human trafficking. Under no circumstances should victims be criminalized, but under a fully decriminalized system, purchasers and traffickers will not be criminalized either, and this is where human trafficking will increase. Legalizing the sex trade will remove criminal sanctions for the purchasing and selling of sexual activities, while making it harder to identify victims. The equality model acknowledges and gives priority to the rights of individuals who have been exploited, while at the same time holding buyers and traffickers accountable for their actions. With taking these steps, we can work towards ending human trafficking without further damage to victims. 

My own unique life experiences sparked my interest and enthusiasm for this subject. On Capp Street in San Francisco, when I was 16 years old, I experienced human trafficking. I had no choice but to sell my body, even though I did not want to. I was eventually able to get away, and as a result, I have a better understanding of what it means to be a victim of human trafficking. 

When a district supervisor in San Francisco introduced legislation to create a Red Light district, legalizing the sex trade in specific locations, I was motivated, and given the passion to utilize my voice. Often, those without true knowledge of human trafficking, act on legislation without having a survivor's perspective and the right information. This is why educated approaches to combating human trafficking are so important. 

This was a pivotal moment for me to take my graduation pictures at this very corner where I was sold for sex at 16 years old. I AM TAKING MY POWER BACK.

Vision Statement

My own unique life circumstances served as the motivation for my interest in this subject. Seeing that a supervisor in San Francisco was lobbying to legalize the sex trade today, has given me the strength to use my voice. I encourage other survivors to do the same. I intend to put the information presented here in my efforts to prevent the legalization and full decriminalization of the sex trade. My voice can be heard on many different platforms regarding this subject since I am a survivor of human trafficking and because I have firsthand experience with it. My hope is that by the end of this capstone project, my colleagues will be moved by what they discover and join forces with me to fight against the normalization of sexual exploitation. Realizing the ways in which the legalization and full decriminalization of the sex trade leads to a rise in the volume of human trafficking, compels us to take action to prevent this from occurring. The general public, law enforcement officials, non-profit organizations, and stakeholders are the most important members of my audience. With a master's degree already under my belt, I intend to position myself as an expert who has both academic expertise and real-world experience. I come at this problem not only from the perspective of my own life experiences but also with the preponderance of evidence to back up my argument.