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NEW YORK, NY – Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced on Wednesday that New York City will no longer be prosecuting prostitution and unlicensed massage, which shows a substantial shift in the approach that the city’s law enforcement bureau takes to sex work.
But don’t think this means that the streets of New York City will become a sex-filled free-for-all; the DA’s office will still prosecute crimes related to sex work, such as those who engage in the services of prostitutes including sex traffickers and pimps that they work for.
In addition, Vance requested on Wednesday that a judge dismiss thousands of cases for prostitution, unlicensed massage, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution, many stemming from the 1970s and 1980s, an era where law enforcement was attempting to “clean up” Manhattan’s image as a seedy, rough-and-tumble city.
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“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” Vance said in a statement.
The move by Vance’s office comes amid calls to completely decriminalize sex work in New York State altogether. This stance is supported by several candidates running to replace Vance as Manhattan DA after he announced he would not be seeking reelection at the end of his third term later this year.
Recently, the DA’s office has been offering those charged with prostitution with mandatory counseling sessions in exchange for the dismissal of their cases; going forward, counseling sessions will be voluntary only.
Both NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, have called for an end to the prosecution of prostitution, with McCray saying last month that selling sex is the only way some vulnerable populations can get by.
“The communities hit hardest by the continued criminalization of sex work and human trafficking are overwhelmingly LGBTQ, they are people of color, and they are undocumented immigrants,” she said. “Sex work is a means of survival for many in these marginalized groups.”