A new bill has been proposed by New York Democratic lawmakers to decriminalize prostitution in the state. The first of its kind in the U.S., this new legislation that was revealed Monday would also eliminate the prior records for most crimes related to sex work offenses.
The new bill, entitled the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, was introduced by Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, with the help of the sex worker advocacy group, Decrim NY. The bill was drafted in an effort to remove criminal penalties for sex workers, who are often the target of arrests and dangerous street violence.
“We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows and ensure that they are protected,” said 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.”
Currently, prostitution is not legal in the U.S., with the exception of only a few counties in the state of Nevada. The new bill would repeal and amend several statutes, and if it passes, it would then be legal to buy and sell sex, with special specific circumstances in N.Y. In addition, the bill would also regulate the “workplaces” where the prostitution takes place, to ensure safe working conditions for sex workers.
It would also mean that many misdemeanor charges related to prostitution would be repealed. Some of the charges would still remain though. Charges involving prostitution in a school zone, currently a misdemeanor offense, would remain illegal. Current laws that are related to sex trafficking and sexual offenses that involve minors would also remain unchanged by the new legislation.
Those who oppose the decriminalization of prostitution indicate that these efforts are misguided, and that full decriminalization of prostitution will create a demand that instead encourages underground sex trafficking. President of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, Sonia Ossorio, said the decriminalization of prostitution would create a brand-new industry that would give legitimacy to existing pimps and brothels.
“Pimps would now just be promoters,” said Ossorio. “You can’t protect the exploited by protecting the exploiters.”
Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit advocate for sex trafficking victims headed by Alexi Meyers and Rebecca Zipkin, support most of the Decrim NY movement. They agree about the repeal of the loitering law and decriminalizing people in prostitution. They do not, however, agree with any law that decriminalizes the buying or selling of sex and promotes prostitution. In fact, they think that fully decriminalizing prostitution actually makes the conditions worse for sex workers.
“Most often it increases sex trafficking,” Zipkin said.” If you legalize, you are condoning brothels to become businesses and pimps to become business managers. That’s what we’ve seen around the world. The argument about safety is false.”
There is no indication that the bill will pass in the near future though, as Governor Cuomo has not endorsed the effort and the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly session is scheduled to end June 19. Advocates doubt the bill will be presented for a vote by this time.