ALBANY, N.Y. — Following the passage of a bill that codifies Roe and legalizes abortion up to birth in some cases, as well as the push to legalize physician-assisted suicide in the state, former and current sex workers gathered in New York’s capitol building on Tuesday to rally for the decriminalization of the sex trade.
According to reports, more than 100 people participated in the event at the Million Dollar Staircase, where some shared their various reasons for why they believe the sex trade should be decriminalized and women should be decarcerated. Some held signs such as “#sexworkiswork” and “Communities need more resources, not more policing.”
“People who do sex work by choice, circumstance, and coercion — and people who are profiled as doing so — are harmed by criminalization, full stop,” said participant Audacia Ray. “Policing is not outreach. Arrest is not rescue. To be harassed by police, detained, charged with crimes, and sent through the court system, even if all of these actions are done with the goal of providing services, is to experience state violence.”
Jessica Raven of the group Decrim NY also told reporters that she ran away from home age 15 as she was being sexually abused while in foster care, and as she was then homeless, soon traded sex for housing.
“People trade sex for economic reasons,” she explained to local radio station WCNY. “People expected sex and I needed housing, so I made deals as needed.”
While Raven was not arrested for her activities, she believes that others have difficulty finding housing or work once released from police custody, and therefore, criminalization hurts women.
“Those criminal convictions block access to resources,” she said. “So, the issue is resources: not having access to housing, not having access to healthcare, and not having access to alternative forms of employment. So, when folks have a criminal record, it makes it harder to access those things.”
New York law currently makes loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution a misdemeanor offense.
“Any person who remains or wanders about in a public place and repeatedly beckons to, or repeatedly stops, or repeatedly attempts to stop, or repeatedly attempts to engage passers-by in conversation, or repeatedly stops or attempts to stop motor vehicles, or repeatedly interferes with the free passage of other persons, for the purpose of promoting prostitution … is guilty of a class A misdemeanor,” it reads in part.
However, a bill introduced earlier this year by Assemblyman Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, an open homosexual, seeks to repeal the law in its entirety. Hoylman and others consider the law as allowing subjective arrests, including for what is called “walking while trans,” or suspecting that the “transgender” person looks the part of a prostitute.
“[The law] is used to profile, harass and arrest transgender people and people of color,” he said in a statement. “It’s time for New York to take a new approach, rooted in compassion rather than criminalization. I look forward to working to pass this measure with the support of my colleagues in both houses.”
Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, has also presented a bill that would vacate women’s convictions if they engaged in a crime at the coercion of traffickers. While compelled prostitution through sex trafficking is already a legal defense and a woman’s criminal record can be expunged in such cases, the bill would apply to other offenses committed in the course of being trafficked.
Other legislation is reportedly being crafted in an effort to decriminalize the sex trade altogether in the state.
“Criminalization does not address why people trade sex, because most people trade sex out of economic need: to pay bills, make rent, and put food on the table. People often turn to sex work after a life event such as a major health-care bill leaves them economically vulnerable,” Ramos wrote in an op-ed for the New York Daily News in February.
She also said that homosexual and transgender youth in New York often turn to prostitution after running away from home in search of acceptance.
“LGBTQ youth … trade sex at seven to eight times the rate of other youth in New York City,” Ramos explained. “Young people trading sex for housing and resources is a crisis — no one wants them to be doing so. But entangling them in the criminal justice system does not stop them. We need more youth services, healthcare and housing that affirm their LGBTQ identities — not policing — so young people don’t have to trade sex for survival.”
Decrim NY’s website states that among its goals is to “[d]estigmatize the sex trade so that workers have access to housing, education, employment, health care, and other basic needs without restriction” as “[n]ot everyone trading sex wants to continue doing so.”
It says that it also desires for New York to “[d]ecarcerate people who have been arrested on sex trade-related offenses so that people can move forward with their lives without lingering ties to the criminal legal system. Vacate criminal records related to prostitution and end the ongoing entanglement with the court system that the rescue industry produces.”
However, some lawmakers have found the effort to be outlandish and self-defeating of the effort to fight exploitation.
“We already have a large issue with human trafficking and women being exploited and used as sex slaves,” Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R-East Shore/South Brooklyn, told Spectrum News. “We need to stop that with law enforcement. “
“It’s just probably the lowest I’ve ever seen this government go and it gets worse,” Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, also remarked to local television station WKBW. “It has really gotten out of hand. This state has really turned upside down and is on its ear right now.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 reads, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication, that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor, not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God. … For God hath not called us unto uncleanness but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.”