In New York, selling or buying sex is illegal. That might change in the near future, reports Law360.com.
Two separate bills making their way through the state Legislature — the Stop
the Violence in the Sex Trades Act and the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and
Equality Act — aim to decriminalize sex work, although with significant
The first bill seeks to fully decriminalize sex work for workers themselves as well as their clients and managers, while the second would only decriminalize it for sex workers. At the root of the difference between the two approaches is a philosophical tug of war: Is sex work a business like any other, or a trade that objectifies and victimizes people and needs to be stopped?
With the exception of Nevada, where prostitution is legal in most counties, sex work is illegal across the United States, so New York lawmakers are looking at countries abroad for insights.
The Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades Act, introduced by state Sen. Julia Salazar, D-Brooklyn, in 2019 and resurfaced this year as S. 3075, borrows the full decriminalization approach adopted by New Zealand in 2003 and by the Australian state of New South Wales in 1979.
The bill would decriminalize consensual sex between adults in exchange for a fee, which is currently a class B misdemeanor. It would also decriminalize use of buildings for sex work, and has a provision to expunge criminal records for prostitution-related offenses that create barriers to employment, housing and access to higher education.
"[What] we're advocating is decriminalization of two parties that agree to exchange sex, for money or for whatever they are exchanging it," Cecilia Gentili, a transgender rights activist and former sex worker who advocates for the bill, told Law360. "It's very personal for me, because I am a sex worker, and I am also a person who experienced trafficking in my life."
Gentili helped found Decrim NY, a coalition of current and former sex workers, public defenders and advocates that has led a campaign for the bill, which has six co-sponsors in the Senate. A companion bill, A. 849, was introduced by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, D-Manhattan, and currently has 17 co-sponsors.
Advocates of the bill seek to treat sex work as any other profession.
"Sex work is a service," Gentili said. "Sometimes it's not even about the sex. Sometimes it's like supporting a person, you know, supporting somebody in other ways and listening to people."
The rival bill, introduced by Sen. Liz Krueger,
D-Manhattan, as S. 6040 in March, has a different end game: to help sex workers
exit the industry by providing them with social services, housing and other
types of support. The bill would make selling sex legal but still prosecute patrons
and pimps. It would also continue to forbid sex workers living in the same
This approach, commonly referred to as the Nordic model, was first adopted by Sweden in 1999 and has since been embraced by other European countries such as Norway, Iceland, France, Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Dawn Gresham, a policy adviser to Krueger, said that most sex workers are coerced into the trade, mainly by economic circumstances. The bill would help them escape it, she said.
"People in the sex trade are victims themselves," Gresham told Law360. "Survivors report this as being raped on a daily basis. There is sexual violence they have to contend with."
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