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Pros And Cons Of Proposed Sex Worker Decriminalization Legislation Debated

Assembly members Richard Gottfried (D-Chelsea, Midtown) and Yuh-Line Niou (D-Chinatown, Financial District, Battery Park City, LES) alongside State Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) and Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) yesterday announced new legislation that would decriminalize sex work in New York.
Richard N. Gottfried
Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried
Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou
Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou

Assembly members Richard Gottfried (D-Chelsea, Midtown) and Yuh-Line Niou (D-Chinatown, Financial District, Battery Park City, LES) alongside State Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) and Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) yesterday announced new legislation that would decriminalize sex work in New York.

If enacted, the bill will allow sex workers to apply for criminal record relief for prior sex trade-related convictions.

“Decriminalizing sex work between consenting adults is harm reduction. Sex workers would have better access to legal assistance, health care, and rights as working people.” said Gottfried, who chairs the Assembly Health Committee.

“Sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state,” said Salazar, chair of the Senate Women’s Health Committee. “Our current policies only empower traffickers and others who benefit from keeping sex work in the shadows. New York State needs to listen to sex workers and make these common-sense reforms to keep sex workers safe and empower sex workers in their workplaces.”Sex trade decriminalization advocates claim traffickers are emboldened by current laws that criminalize sex workers. A check cannot be put on traffickers and workers are kept silent for fear of prosecution. 

But opponents of the bill say decriminalization would effectively set up a new industry and give legitimacy to existing brothels and pimps.

“Pimps would now just be promoters,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), told the New York Times. “You can’t protect the exploited by protecting the exploiters.”

Dorchen A. Leidholdt, the director of Sanctuary for Families legal center and a chairwoman of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, told the Times in the same story that there is an argument for some form of partial legalization, but that full decriminalization would be a “public-policy disaster for New York.”

Currently, Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal, and only in a few counties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not yet endorsed the effort and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

But to former sex worker Bianey Garcia, a formerly undocumented trans woman of color, the measure would allow for more safety from violence and exploitation.

“This economy doesn’t work for everyone. Sometimes, sex work is the best option for people like me. That’s my choice. And criminalizing our clients, housing, loved ones, and the sex workers we collaborate with to keep each other safe means taking away our only means of survival,” said Garcia.

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