The definition of sex trafficking, and how it differs from prostitution.
Michael Nyerges, The Enquirer
ALBANY, N.Y. – A group of Democratic lawmakers in Albany want to decriminalize prostitution.
A bill introduced Monday would change the state’s penal code to effectively allow consenting adults to engage in sex work without the threat of prosecution.
The change is being pushed by lawmakers and advocates that say the state’s current laws create an unsafe environment for sex workers and disproportionately impact minority communities.
But critics say the effort is misguided and could lead to further exploitation.
“We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows and ensure that they are protected,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, a lead sponsor of the legislation.
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Ramos, who chairs the Senate Labor Committee, said Monday the bill is the first step in protecting sex workers who currently face the threat of street violence and arrest by law enforcement.
The bill is the first of its kind to be introduced in the nation.
But advocates on Monday said the chances of the bill passing this session are slim. Lawmakers are scheduled to end their annual session at the Capitol June 19.
“We know this a long fight,” said Audacia Ray, director of community organizing at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, a group supporting the bill.
New York has more than two dozen laws prohibiting sex work on the books.
The new bill — drafted alongside Decrim NY, a sex workers advocacy group — would repeal several statutes and alter others.
Nothing in the bill, or the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, would change the state’s approach to sex trafficking, which would remain illegal under the law.
But the bill would repeal language that prohibits the promotion of prostitution in the third and fourth degree, currently a class A misdemeanor and class D felony respectively.
Loitering for the purposes of prostitution, a class A misdemeanor, would also be repealed.
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The law would also change language in the penal code allowing the patronizing of an prostitute and allowing sex workers to use their apartments without facing eviction.
“Trying to stop sex work between consenting adults should not be the business of the criminal justice system,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat sponsoring the legislation.
Critics of the bill urged lawmakers to take a more-nuanced approach, arguing that effectively legalizing prostitution would lead to more women being exploited.
Sanctuary for Families, a Manhattan-based organization, has pushed for rescinding penalties against those who are prostituted. But the bill introduced Monday goes too far, the group argued.
Judy Harris Kluger, the group’s executive director, said New York has to be “better than this.”
“We must ensure victims are protected but cannot do so while extending the same protections to sex traffickers,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this bill does not take this nuanced approach, and it therefore should not become law in New York.”
Criminalizing sex work leads to trafficking and other types of abuses, Gottfried said.
“Sex workers instead ought to have rights,” Gottfried.
The bill would also allow sex workers convicted under the state’s current laws to apply for relief.
Sex workers speak out
Several current and former sex workers on Monday urged the Legislature to take up the measure.
“Because of criminalization, sex workers and clients are consistently looking over their shoulders,” said TS Candii, a former sex worker.
Candii, a trans woman of color, resorted to sex work after facing discrimination in the workplace.
The state’s current laws, she said, make it difficult to screen potential clients and discuss things HIV status.
New York, she said, has made one of the “best means of survival” dangerous for those in the LGBT community.
“We only want to live, be free and be safe,” Candii said.
Follow Chad Arnold on Twitter: @ChadGArnold
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