Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

new york could be the first state to decriminalize sex work

Legislators have introduced a landmark bill to better protect sex workers from discrimination and violence.

by Nicole DeMarco
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Jun 11 2019, 7:14pm

Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images.

On Monday June 10, New York state lawmakers presented a bill known as the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act. It is sponsored by Senator Julia Salazar and was drafted by Decrim NY, a sex worker-led coalition of over 20 organizations seeking to decriminalize sex trades. If passed, New York would make history as the first state to do so and take a stand in protecting sex workers.

Sex workers have long campaigned for decriminalization, but things started to pick up in February when Decrim NY launched, and advocacy for sex worker rights turned into a full blown movement. Suddenly Democratic candidates for President including Kamala Harris, Tulsi Gabbard, Mike Gravel, and Cory Booker, were pledging their support. This doesn’t mean that the bill won’t have a long uphill battle ahead, but it’s a major step forward.

According to the New Republic, the bill would remove criminal penalties associated with adults buying and selling sex, and repeal parts of the law that criminalize the promotion of prostitution, which can be used unfavorably to punish sex workers for working together or helping them screen clients.

“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,” said 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.

Decriminalization is supported by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the World Health Organization, who argue that prostitution’s illegal status only make it more likely for those in the sex work industry to face violent or exploitative conditions, as opposed to protecting them. The Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act would also help combat employment and housing discrimination — preventing landlords from evicting sex workers or declining to rent to them at all.

“Neither young people nor adults should have to trade sex to meet their needs,” Jessica Raven, a former sex worker and Decrim NY steering member, wrote in the Daily News. “But until safe housing and a living wage are accessible to everyone, many of us will continue to sell sex to survive. In the meantime, we must decriminalize sex work so that it’s safer for the people doing it.”

New York is not alone, as a similar bill was introduced last week in Washington D.C., indicating that our politicians are beginning to address sex workers rights in a more serious way.