At an initial hearing on Thursday, more than 150 people — many of them current and former sex workers — gave radically different opinions about whether decriminalization would cause prostitutes greater harm. Some wore T-shirts that said, “Sex workers deserve housing, not handcuffs.”
The proposal is dividing the city’s progressive community, pitting some women’s groups against advocates for sex workers. Some prostitutes who have been sex trafficked find themselves on the other side from sex workers who have not been. But all sides agree that prostitution practiced openly would reverberate well beyond the city’s thriving but shadowy sex industry of street prostitution, massage parlors, strip clubs and high-end call girls.
Prostitutes would most likely work openly out of homes in neighborhoods across the city. Certain blocks could become de facto red-light districts. And policing strategy would have to change so officers could distinguish pimps from sex traffickers.
Ms. Spellman, a transgender woman and activist, has worked for more than two years with Councilman David Grosso and advocacy groups in the city to try to marshal support for the legislation.
Violence against sex workers had made it critical for lawmakers to do something radical to try to protect them, Mr. Grosso said at Thursday’s hearing. “The criminalization approach has failed,” he said.
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