Brooklyn Boro

Historic bill would decriminalize sex work

June 11, 2019 Mary Frost
“Here we are to affirm today that sex work is work,” Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos said during a press conference unveiling the bill. Eagle photo by Victoria Merlino

Lawmakers on Monday introduced the first statewide bill to decriminalize the sale and solicitation of sex, just over a week before the end of the legislative session.

The legislation is backed by a coalition of Democratic state senators, assemblymembers and activists who say the government should have no say in sex between consenting adults.

The risk of arrest discourages sex workers from gaining the supportive services they need — and also pushes them further into marginalization, the bill’s supporters say.

Opponents say the bill would open the door to an increase in sex trafficking and exploited youth, pointing to Nevada, where prostitution is legal.

State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried introduced the bill. On Tuesday, it was referred to the Rules Committee in the Senate.

Lawmakers do not believe the legislation will be passed before the session’s end on June 19, but its sponsors think its introduction will raise awareness about the stigmas and dangers sex workers face.

“Ultimately, sex work is work. Decriminalizing sex work will protect sex workers from exploitation, allow them to seek protection from trafficking, and will help victims of sex trafficking seek justice,” Ramos told the Brooklyn Eagle in February, after announcing plans for the legislation.

In April, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez met with advocates from DecrimNY, a coalition of people who have engaged in sex work either by choice or under coercion, to discuss why they believe prostitution should be legal. He said his focus, however, remains prosecuting sex-traffickers.

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“My obligation — I think — is to make sure I’m protecting children from being sex-trafficked and women who are being forced into this trade,” he said.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month compared arrests for prostitution to the stop-and-frisk policy and broken windows theory, which he said disproportionately hurt communities of color. He said the city should instead be focusing efforts on services and outreach, a view backed by some of his colleagues, including Councilmember Margaret Chin of Manhattan.

“The current criminal justice framework governing over the sex trade ignores the reality that so many individuals involved in sex trade face, and fosters a level of mistrust between community and government that discourages many individuals from accessing the supportive services they need,” Chin said.

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