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Decriminalize Sex Work

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LGBTQ, immigrant rights and criminal justice reform groups, launched a coalition, Decrim NY, in February to decriminalize the sex trade in New York.

There’s a bill in the New York legislature to decriminalize sex work. This is a good thing.

Insisting that their labor is no less legitimate or indispensable than that of other professions, a coalition of sex workers has joined with lawmakers to push for legislation that would decriminalize paid consensual sex among adults.  

The bill, by Brooklyn State Senator Julia Salazar, would stop treating sex work between consenting adults as criminal activity and permit people to offer and solicit sex in exchange for money. The legislation, known as the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, would also strike from the record previous convictions of crimes repealed by the legislation. Sex work involving minors, intimidation, coercion and trafficking would remain against the law. 

“The government should not be dictating what New Yorkers do with their bodies consensually,” Queens State Senator Jessica González-Rojas said during a rally at the statehouse last week attended by dozens of sex workers, advocates and lawmakers. 

González-Rojas, who represents neighborhoods with a high population of sex workers, said the bill would make the sex-work trade safer in large part because it would reduce the adversarial relationship between sex workers and cops, thereby making it more likely that sex workers would report trafficking. “Criminalization of any kind is violence,” she said. “We can address human trafficking and decriminalize our streets as well.”

Depending on a person’s role in sex work, criminal offenses can range from a Class B misdemeanor for offers and solicitation, which carries a maximum of 90 days in jail, to a Class A misdemeanor for promoting prostitution, or pimping, which carries a penalty of up to a year in jail. Managing or controlling a prostitution business with more than one person doing sex work is a Class C felony and conviction could bring seven years.The offenses and punishments are categorically more serious when minors are involved. 

Hard to see it passing. This is exactly the kind of issue that the conservatives who make up a still too large part of the New York legislature never support. But sex work is just another form of labor, except that we have created an indefensible moral category for it. We have to think sex workers as just another class of workers. The job often sucks, yes. But it’s just another job. And anyone who cares about labor has to conceptualize it as a job where we have to fight for the dignity of labor. That’s true of all work. So let’s give this bill our support.

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