New York legislators are pushing to decriminalize sex work in the Empire State.
Lawmakers on Monday filed the first-ever bill that would make it legal to both buy and sell sex under certain circumstances. The bill also modifies laws around facilities that are used as brothels, or places to purchase prostitutes.
“Decriminalizing sex work between consenting adults in New York will protect many of my neighbors — people who have found themselves in limited situations because of employment and housing discrimination,” Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos said. “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.”
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The bill, which legislators drafted with the aid of sex worker rights advocates Decrim NY, would repeal the criminalization of patronizing an adult for prostitution, promoting prostitution in the third and fourth degree, which criminalizes sex workers who work together to organize and work with each other for safety.
The definition of advancing prostitution would be amended to protect young people between the ages of 17 and 21 from laws that ban working together, and amends the multiple real estate and public health laws. It also requires all genders to be acknowledged, instead of using only he or she pronouns.
Another crucial part of the bill repeals loitering for the purposes of prostitution laws, which advocates say often involves profiling of people of color and trans people. In NYC, about 1,500 people were arrested on prostitution-related charges in 2018, which commonly netted sex workers of color, transgender sex workers, and immigrant sex workers
“This is not just about decriminalizing workers or the absence of criminal codes. It’s about making sure people who work in the sex trades have access to making a living in the sex industry in a way that is not a crime,” tweeted Audacia Ray, a member of the Decrim NY steering committee, a director at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, and a former sex worker.
Advocates for sex worker rights in New York announced their intention to fully decriminalize prostitution in the state.
“New York criminalizes adults for trading sex for resources, but falls short in addressing root causes,” said Jessica Raven, member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee and former sex worker. “Instead, we subject sex workers, and the people who live and work with them, to state violence.
"Neither young people nor adults should have to trade sex to meet their needs," Raven said. "But until safe housing and a living wage are accessible to everyone, many of us will continue to sell sex to survive."
The Bill is sponsored by Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar.
New York would be the first state to fully decriminalize sex work in the country if the bill passes.
Other states are also taking on sex worker’s rights bills. Under Nevada's state laws, prostitution and solicitation are legal in counties with less than 400,000 residents.
In Massachusetts, State Reps. have filed two bills that seek to decriminalize the selling of sex.
“Working in an underground illegal environment means sex workers face increased violence, abuse and exploitation,” Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried said in a statement. “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.”