New York Lawmakers Announce Legislation to Decriminalize Sex Work

A group of New York state lawmakers on Monday announced what could be a landmark effort to roll back laws against prostitution in the country’s fourth-most heavily populated states, an effort that could lead to legalization of consensual sex work in New York, according to an NBC New York report

“The criminalization of sex work disproportionately impacts LGBTQI+ NYers, immigrants, and people of color,” wrote State Senator Brad Hoylman, chair the New York Senate Judiciary Committee and a co-sponsor of the legislation, on his Twitter account.  “It perpetuates stigma, and it furthers a devastating cycle of incarceration. We need change.”

Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, as well as New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, are also backing the proposed package of legislation. 

"Criminalization does not address why people trade sex, because most people trade sex out of economic need: to pay bills, make rent, and put food on the table," wrote Ramos and Salazar in a New York Daily News op-ed on Monday. “Criminalization encourages rampant abuses by law enforcement. An estimated 94 percent of people arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution in Brooklyn and Queens are black women.”

The move in New York comes less than two weeks after a Rhode Island lawmaker introduced a resolution to study decriminalizing sex work in that state, as reported, and about two months after the mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, called for increased legal protection for sex workers, though stopping short of a call for full decriminalization.

The bills set to be introduced by the New York lawmakers would repeal a state statute that makes “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” a criminal offense, according to The Queens Eagle newspaper. Under another provision of the proposed new laws, any conviction for prostitution deemed to be the result of sex trafficking would be immedaiely voided.

“Ultimately, sex work is work,” Ramos told the Eagle. “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 lawmakers say that are crafting the measures in collaboration with Decrim NY, an advocacy group whose stated purpose is to “decriminalize sex trade related offenses in New York that harm people who do sexual labor by choice, circumstance, or coercion,” and well as to “decarcerate”—that is, free from jails—“people who have been arrested on sex trade-related offenses so that people can move forward with their lives without lingering ties to the criminal legal system.” 

Photo By David Holt / Flickr Creative Commons