A group of New York state lawmakers in February announced that they would introduce new legislation to decriminalize sex work there, but though the lawmakers noted that “94 percent of people arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution in Brooklyn and Queens are black women,” the proposed new law has not won support from all women’s groups.
On Monday, the nation’s largest women’s rights group, the National Organization for Women, led a demonstration on the steps of New York City Hall, to protest the plan to remove criminal penalties for prostitution—only to see the protest disrupted by two female sex workers who staged a vocal counter-protest, according to a report by The Daily Beast.
While the NOW protesters said that the decriminalization bill would turn New York into the “Las Vegas of the Northeast” by allowing pimps and male customers to get away with their exploitation of women, the two sex workers who showed up carried placards that read, “Consensual sex workers against sex trafficking,” according to Daily Beast reporter Emily Shugerman.
“It’s important for us to be here because we are consensual sex workers, and the idea that sex work can never be consensual is just wrong,” one of the two women told Shugerman.
The second of the two counter-protesters told Daily Beast she objected to what she said was language used by opponents of decriminalization that painted sex workers with a broad brush as victims. “People have that story and I think that’s valid. But that's not my story and that’s not a lot of people’s stories, and those deserve to be heard as well,” she said.
Decriminalization of sex work is emerging as a political issue that has even reached the level of the 2020 presidential race, with California Senator Kamala Harris coming out in favor of at least a limited form of decriminalization, after facing opposition from sex worker rights groups over her policies as California’s attorney general, which they say targeted prostitution.
Another Democratic candidate who has earlier taken a tough stance, voting in favor of the FOSTA/SESTA law that sex workers say has made their jobs and lives more dangerous, also reversed her position this week: Hawaii congressional rep Tulsi Gabbard said that she now favors lifting criminal penalties for sex work.
When the current polling leader among announced candidates, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was asked in a recent interview whether he favored decriminalization, however, he responded, “That’s a good question and I don’t have an answer for that.”
Sanders—like Gabbard, Harris and, in fact, all of the Democratic candidates serving in the Senate or House—voted in favor of FOSTA/SESTA.
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