No more arrests for sex workers in New York, de Blasio says

Sex workers protest in The Hague
Police in New York City will no longer arrest sex workers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on March 16, 2021.

Mayor Bill de Blasio broached a few heavy topics in his morning briefing Tuesday, March 16, when he spoke on the realities of sex trafficking, the need for decriminalization of sex work,  and more protections for sex workers in the city. 

De Blasio said that how sex workers are treated in the legal system needs to change, starting with an “aggressive” coordinated approach to stop sex trafficking. He emphasized punishing traffickers while supporting survivors with city resources. 

“The conception we have in our legal system is broken, we need t, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on March o change it,” said de Blasio.

The Open Society Foundations sponsored the Sex Workers’ Pop-Up exhibition in the city last March right before the COVID-19 outbreak derailed the public, week-long event. According to the foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in violence, harassment, and abuse of sex workers worldwide.

Stay-at-home orders have cut people off from steady work or health services, and caused others to perceive sex workers as vectors for the spread of COVID-19, said the foundation.

“It’s clear that anything that increases options for survivors is a good thing, and it’s even better if those options decrease reliance on the criminal justice system,” said Manhattan City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal in the meeting.

De Blasio stated the city is forming a task force to focus on health and safety needs of sex workers and review NYPD policies that identify and investigate human trafficking. 

The mayor said the number of arrests for sex crimes has gone down markedly, about 21% from last year according to the NYPD stats.

“If we’re talking about sex work alone, of course I don’t want to see arrests for that anymore. I want us to move to a different approach,” said de Blasio. 

This is not the first time New York City and State have taken on this legislative battle to change the stigmas around sex work and address the dangers of trafficking.

In June 2019, Brooklyn state Senator Julia Salazar and Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried sparked a storm of criticism when they introduced The Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, which strove to stop penalizing adult sex workers for certain prostitution offenses.

The bill and others are currently still in committee, but essentially support “full decriminalization.” Some advocacy groups as well as public figures are against the full decriminalization of the entire sex industry, not just its victims and workers, because they fear it would lead to more demand and violence while others are for it. 

More recently, in February 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a repeal of the S.2253/A.654 law, or the ‘Walking While Trans’ ban, as it’s known. It was originally passed in 1976 with the “intent to prohibit loitering for the purpose of prostitution,” but ultimately led to the discriminatory policing of transgender women and women of color sex workers.

Manhattan state Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the repeal bill, called the law “outdated” and a reflection of a “broader culture of fear and intimidation for transgender and gender nonconforming New Yorkers” in a statement.

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