Albany, New York: New York state would legalize the buying and selling of sex under a proposal introduced in the state Legislature Monday that would lift criminal penalties for sex work. The new legislation also looks to eliminate prior criminal records related to most sex work offenses. If passed, it would be the first of its kind in the U.S.
Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar introduced the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, which is aimed at removing criminal penalties for sex workers, who are often targets of street violence and arrests.
“We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows and ensure that they are protected,” Ramos said in a news conference. “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.”
The new bill, which was drafted with the help of sex worker advocacy group Decrim NY, would repeal and amend several statutes.
If it passes, the bill would make it legal to both sell and buy sex under specific circumstances. Additionally, the legislation would regulate places where prostitution takes place in order to make working conditions safer for sex workers.
Many misdemeanor charges related to prostitution would be repealed. The legislation does not eliminate charges in some circumstances, including prostitution in a school zone, which is a misdemeanor offense. The legislation also does not propose changes to current laws related to sex trafficking and offenses related to minors.
Advocates are doubtful the bill will be up for vote by the time the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly session ends June 19.
Rebecca Zipkin and Alexi Meyers of Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit group that advocates for sex trafficking victims, told reporters they support a lot of the legislation, but stopped short of completely backing it. They say decriminalizing prostitution doesn’t make conditions safer for workers — it has the adverse effect.
“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.”
Advocates for sex workers are also supporting legislation this year that would repeal criminal penalties for loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution. More than 100 current and former sex workers in favor of that bill rallied at the state Capitol last month.
Image: Members of the coalition DecrimNY stage a rally supporting the decriminalizing the sex trade in Foley Square, New York City.