Bill to legalize prostitution introduced in New York

A prostitute waits for customers along a road of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Decrim NY and legislators unveiled Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, a package bill to decriminalize and decarcerate the sex trades in New York, on June 10, 2019.

It is the first statewide bill of its kind in the nation’s history. Decrim NY is a coalition of 30 plus organizations working across LGBTQ, racial justice, and immigrant rights spaces.

It launched in February with heavy publicity. Since launching, the coalition has also brought 100 plus sex workers, trafficking survivors, and advocates to Albany for a lobby day in May, according to a press release.

Lead legislative sponsors on the bill are Senate Women’s Health Committee Chair Julia Salazar, Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos, Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried, and Assembly Asian Pacific American Task Force Co-Chair Yuh-Line Niou. Bill co-sponsors include Assembly members Dan Quart, Ron Kim and Catalina Cruz.

The bill upholds laws concerning human trafficking, rape (including statutory rape), assault, battery, and sexual harassment. The bill amends statutes so that consenting adults who trade sex, collaborate with or support sex working peers, or patronize adult sex workers are not criminalized. It also amends the law so that people can trade sex in spaces where legal businesses are permitted, while upholding that maintaining an exploitative workplace where coercion and trafficking takes place is a felony.

New York state law has more than two dozen anti-prostitution penal codes, about half of which pertain only to sex work between consenting adults, while the other statutes focus on trafficking, exploitation of minors, and coercion in the sex trades. The bill upholds all of the anti-trafficking statutes that are designed to hold accountable traffickers and people who seek to buy sex from minors or otherwise sexually exploit minors.

The bill also amends the gendered language of existing penal code to reflect the diverse gender identities of LGBTQ communities, who participate in the sex trades at high rates. Finally, the bill adds the option for sex workers and trafficking survivors to apply for criminal record relief for crimes they were previously convicted of that are repealed under this bill.

Progressive voters support this kind of bill. In May, Data for Progress in collaboration with Decrim NY, released a national poll that found Democratic voters support decriminalizing sex work by a 3-to-1 margin (56% support, 17% oppose, the remaining 27% are neutral or don’t know.)

“Sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state,” said Senate Women’s Health Committee Chair Julia Salazar. “Our current policies only empower traffickers and others who benefit from keeping sex work in the shadows. New York State needs to listen to sex workers and make these common sense reforms to keep sex workers safe and empower sex workers in their workplaces.”

“Decriminalizing sex work between consenting adults in New York will protect many of my neighbors – people who have found themselves in situations because of employment and housing discrimination,” said Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos. “We will finally make strides against trafficking by empowering sex workers to report violence against them. Sex work is work and everyone has an inherent right to a safe workplace.”

“Trying to stop sex work between consenting adults shouldn’t be the business of the criminal justice system. It hasn’t worked throughout history, and it makes things worse,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. “Working in an underground illegal environment means sex workers face increased violence, abuse and exploitation. Decriminalizing sex work between consenting adults is harm reduction. Sex workers would have better access to legal assistance, health care, and rights as working people. Working legally would give them greater ability to screen and refuse clients, which is critical to personal safety. Keeping sex work criminalized makes it harder to enforce laws against human trafficking and sex with minors.”

“For too long, the criminalization of sex work has negatively terrorized a community of disproportionately minority, female, LGBTQIA+, and/or undocumented individuals,” said Assembly Asian Pacific American Task Force Co-Chair Yuh-Line Niou. “In particular, Asian & Pacific Islander American immigrant and migrant women have been brutally targeted by law enforcement, as exemplified by the death of Yang Song in 2017. Yang Song’s story is unfortunately not unique. Our community members are some of the most overlooked individuals and have no support systems in place to assist them. We deserve to have the opportunity to utilize our justice system without fear and receive support from language-accessible and culturally sensitive resources. Our system is not built to serve our community members and we must change it so it works for us today. The time is now to end the horrific treatment of our community. I am proud to co-sponsor this new legislation with Assemblymember Gottfried and look forward to continuing to drive true reform for equity in our system.”

“For so many marginalized groups, sex work is a means of survival,” said Assemblymember Dan Quart. “The communities hit hardest by the continued criminalization of sex work are overwhelmingly LGBTQ, they’re people of color, and they are undocumented immigrants. Be it for survival or other reason, sex work is not going away and decriminalizing it is the only way to protect people’s agency, fight against trafficking and violence, and ensure the dignity and rights of all.”

“Poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw; those who create the conditions of poverty should feel all the shame and weight of the world,” said Assemblymember Ron Kim. My constituent Yang Song, deserved to live out her full potential, free from the unyielding structural limitations placed on her. Do not stigmatize her life; stigmatize those who let her struggle to survive, let her die. As a leader, I fight against everything that exploits, that dehumanizes, that demoralizes a human being to feel less than, which is why I believe in signing onto this legislation.”




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