Buoyed by the election of more progressive lawmakers in New York state, a group of legislators are hoping to decriminalize sex work in the near future.
First-term state Sen. Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos are working with Assemblyman Richard Gottfried on a bill that would not legalize but decriminalize sex work.
Working with Decrim NY, a coalition of local human rights activists including LGBTQ, immigration and justice reform advocates, the lawmakers hope to “decriminalize, decarcerate and destigmatize the sex trade in New York City and the state,” according to The Daily Beast.
A 2007 study of LGBTQ teens in New York revealed that LGBTQ youth were seven times more likely to have traded sex for shelter than heterosexual teens, and that transgender teens were eight times more likely.
“Trying to stop adult sex work shouldn’t be the business of the criminal justice system,” said Gottfried at a press event on Monday. “Throughout history, it hasn’t worked, and it makes things worse, Decriminalizing adult sex work is harm reduction.”
State Sen. Salazar is actually the first political candidate to campaign and win on a platform that included sex workers’ rights.
“The climate of fear of intimidation caused by criminalizing sex work makes it very difficult for sex workers to seek any kind of redress for labor issues or to report the various kinds of abuse many endure in silence,” said the 27-year-old legislator at the launch event Monday. “Sex work is work, and we need to start treating it as such.”
Part of the focus of the legislation will be to clear prostitution charges from sex workers records and have them released from jail.
A transgender woman who has done sex work, Cecilia Gentili, addressed the crowd of about 150 people on Monday.
“It feels surreal to be talking about this,” said Gentili, reports HuffPost. “As a transgender woman who did sex work, I have experienced oppression and prejudice from the police, immigration authorities and even social service organizations because I was trading sex.”
“Until we decriminalize sex work, the people most impacted by criminalization ― trans people, people of color and undocumented people ― will continue to be treated as less than the full humans they are.”
In November, Democrats were able to take control of all three branches of state government. And so, for the first time, the issue of sex workers’ rights moved from being a taboo issue to a mainstream issue.
The three lawmakers already have support from other legislators including Assembly members Catalina Cruz and Dan Quart.