State Lawmakers to Introduce Bills Decriminalizing Sex Work

Advocates call for the legalization of sex work among consenting adults at a rally in London last year. New York state lawmakers will introduce legislation to decriminalize sex work this legislative session.  Photo by David Holt/Flickr

Advocates call for the legalization of sex work among consenting adults at a rally in London last year. New York state lawmakers will introduce legislation to decriminalize sex work this legislative session. Photo by David Holt/Flickr

By David Brand

The grassroots effort to legalize sex work took a big step forward Monday when State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried announced they would introduce a legislative package to decriminalize the industry among consenting adults.

Ramos, Salazar and Gottfried joined Decrim NY, a coalition of more than 20 organizations, at a rally in Manhattan on Monday to protect the rights of sex workers. Decrim NY advocates for repealing misdemeanor prostitution charges for consenting adults and clearing prostitution records for people who were charged in the past.

”I’ve seen sex workers on Roosevelt Avenue nearly my entire life. I’ve met some neighbors who simply want to erase the people working there,” said Ramos, chair of the state Senate’s Labor Committee. “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.”

The package of legislation includes an existing bill that would vacate all convictions where the offense was a result of being trafficked and another bill to repeal the “loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute.”

Loitering arrests increased last year for the first time in at least six years, Documented reported. Many of the people arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution are transgender individuals or undocumented immigrants. Under federal immigration law, a prostitution-related charge can prevent an undocumented immigrant from securing documented status.

“As a transgender woman who did sex work, I have experienced oppression and prejudice from the police, immigration authorities and even social service organizations because I was trading sex,” daid Cecilia Gentili, a member of Decrim NY’s steering committee, in a statement. “Until we decriminalize sex work, the people most impacted by criminalization — trans people, people of color, and undocumented people — will continue to be treated as less than the full humans they are.”

Decrim NY also calls on the city to take the money currently used to fund vice policing and mandated programs for people arrested for sex work and use it to fund harm reduction services instead.

“Full decriminalization best protects the rights and safety of people who trade sex … In reality, these laws target loved ones, family, landlords, drivers and other people providing care and services to sex workers, which isolates and stigmatizes people who trade sex. Oftentime peers in the sex trade help each other find clients and then get charged with trafficking,” said Jessica Raven, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project and a member of the Decrim NY steering committee.