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District Attorney Vance ends prosecution of prostitution and unlicensed massage in Manhattan

FILE PHOTO: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. speaks during a news conference in New York City, U.S., September 25, 2019. (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced a new policy to decline-to-prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage, the District Attorney’s office said on Wednesday.

The DA appeared before the Manhattan Criminal Court virtually on April 21 moved to dismiss 914 Prostitution and Unlicensed Massage cases. The move would prevent unnecessary future contacts with the criminal justice system while eliminating the collateral consequences associated with having a prostitution case or conviction and empowering New Yorkers to interact with law enforcement without fear of arrest or deportation.

Following the state’s repeal of the statute known as “Walking While Trans,” Vance also moved to dismiss 5,080 standing Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution cases.

“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” said District Attorney Vance. “For years, rather than seeking criminal convictions, my Office has reformed its practice to offer services to individuals arrested for prostitution. Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and supports solely on a voluntary basis. By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach. These cases – many dating back to the 1970s and 1980s – are both a relic of a different New York, and a very real burden for the person who carries the conviction or bench warrant.”

Vance was joined by Abigail Swenstein, Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project, in court as he brought forth the motions. In addition to the 5,080 standing cases, Vance also moved to dismiss 5,994 bench warrants en masse as well as the 878 underlying Prostitution cases and 36 underlying Unlicensed Massage cases.

The motions were granted by Judge Charlotte Davidson.

“We welcome this action from DA Vance to dismiss all pending prostitution and unlicensed massage related cases as well as his new policy to decline to prosecute these arrests going forward,” said Swenstein. “We thank the DA’s office, and most notably, the prosecutors in the human trafficking unit, who have listened to and acted on the knowledge gained from speaking to advocates and most importantly, survivors and those with lived experience as sex workers. However, this policy should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense. The Legal Aid Society reaffirms the need for Albany to enact S6419/A8230, legislation that would accomplish this, immediately this session.”

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