ALBANY, N.Y. – Some Albany legislators say criminalizing sex work between consenting adults only empowers sex traffickers and it’s time for a change. A package of bills called the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act has been introduced in both the Assembly and Senate.
The first statewide bill of its kind in the country, it would decriminalize trade in sex between consenting adults. Nina Luo is a member of Decrim New York, a coalition of more that 30 organizations spanning the LGBTQ, racial justice, harm-reduction and immigrants’ rights communities. She pointed out that many marginalized people are shut out of the formal economy by discrimination and turn to the sex trade to survive.
“Whether it’s to pay bills or to feed their families or to pay for gender-affirming health care,” Luo said. “So, we don’t want to criminalize their form of survival, and that’s why we’re decriminalizing both the sale and purchase of sex.”
Opponents of decriminalization say it would promote sex trafficking, pimping and organized crime. But supporters emphasize that the bill, if passed, would leave laws against human trafficking, rape, assault, sexual exploitation of minors and sexual harassment in place.
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Luo added criminalizing sex trade has forced those who engage in sex work into an underground, illegal environment that puts them at extreme risk.
“People who do harm to people who trade sex know that if sex workers try to report crimes, police are going to lock them up,” she said. “That’s what happens today.”
Jessica Ramos, chair of the state Senate Labor Committee, said the legislation would help create safe workplaces by empowering sex workers to report violence.
Decriminalization differs from legalizing and regulating sex work. Luo noted that Nevada has legalized sex work, as have Germany and the city of Amsterdam. But the sex workers themselves receive few of the benefits.
“The licenses to own brothels are so expensive that only brothel owners can afford them, and so that empowers people who manage and own brothels rather than sex workers working by themselves or with other sex workers,” she said.
With the legislative session ending on June 19, there is little chance the bill will pass this year, but Luo said introducing it now will encourage public discussion and education for its reintroduction in the coming year.