New York State Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, along with several other colleagues, recently introduced a bill to the New York legislature that would "repeal statutes that criminalize consensual sexual exchange between adults and create a system that erases prostitution records for sex workers and sex trafficking survivors so they can move on with their lives."
In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Ramos and Salazar listed the heavy burden people of color, trans people and undocumented immigrants carry when sex work is criminalized.
Activists are quick to point out the difference between consensual sex work and sex trafficking, which are frequently conflated by lawmakers. Per Rewire News:
The tendency to treat trafficking and prostitution as if they were the same thing has a long and problematic history. Legislation and social discussion have often blurred or denied any difference, but that has always made things worse rather than better for those involved.
The trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery is undeniably a gross abuse of human rights. Like all trafficking, it involves coercion or trickery or both.
...By the same token, treating sex work as if it is the same as sex trafficking both ignores the realities of sex work and endangers those engaged in it. Sex workers include men and women and transgendered persons who offer sexual services in exchange for money. The services may include prostitution (sexual intercourse) and other services such as phone sex. Sex workers engage in this for many reasons, but the key distinction here is that they do it voluntarily. They are not coerced or tricked into staying in the business but have chosen this from among the options available to them.
Activists stress they are trying to protect those who engage in consensual sex work, not traffickers or pimps.
Melanie Thompson, a survivor's advocate and a victim of sex trafficking, wrote an opposing op-ed for the New York Daily News. Thompson worries decriminalizing sex work will benefit sex traffickers and pimps far more than it will sex workers.
The right way to fix the laws is to decriminalize only us, the victims. Stop arresting us, charging us with loitering or worse, abusing us, preventing us from moving on with our lives because of prostitution convictions.
But ensure that it remains a crime — in fact a serious crime — to be a pimp, or to pay for sex. That’s the only honest way to protect the people these legislators claim to care about.
In an interview with the Root, presidential candidate Kamala Harris stated her belief that sex work should be decriminalized. Harris, the former attorney general of California, had previously been unequivocal in her stance that sex work was a crime and should stay that way. The Huffington Post had a transcript of the recent interview:
“There is an ecosystem around that that includes crimes that harm people, and for those issues, I do not believe that anybody who hurts another human being or profits off of their exploitation should be free of criminal prosecution,” the California senator said. “But when you’re talking about consenting adults, we should consider that we can’t criminalize consensual behavior.”
Some New York area residents worry decriminalizing sex work will lead to a slippery slope of morality. Per Newsday:
Legal brothels and individual prostitutes will no doubt be taxed if sex work is legalized. There will no doubt be all manner of licensing fees. Can you imagine the regulatory hoops that a legal brothel would have to jump through? And you thought restaurant inspections were tough.
Never mind the support bureaucracy that will out of necessity have to spring up around legal sex work. Birth control will have to be provided. And abortion services as well to take care of unintended pregnancies. Medical personnel to deal with sexually transmitted diseases. Mental health workers to deal with any psychological fallout. More inspectors. And more police.
...Legalized weed. Legalized prostitution. Legalized sports betting. It’s like the crazy “Pleasure Palace” world that Biff built in “Back to the Future Part II.” Is that the world we want to live in?