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Should sex work be legal in New York?

by Narges Mohammadi

There are two opposing bills in the state Legislature aimed at reforming the underground sex work industry and squashing the nasty web of human trafficking that fuels it.

But the proposed solutions — one led by Democratic Socialist lawmakers and another spearheaded by veteran state Sen. Liz Kreuger — are not just in competition, their supporters are convinced the others’ bill will make the problem worse.

“The countries that have gone down that road [of full decriminalization] have basically opened the floodgates of more trafficking, and more exploitation of these vulnerable young people, men and women,” Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

Krueger, along with Syracuse Assembly member Pamela Hunter, is sponsoring a bill that would shield sex workers from prosecution and expunge their past convictions — all while ensuring others involved in the transaction (like the pimps and sex buyers) can still be prosecuted.

On the other side of the issue, Democrats state Sen. Julia Salazar of Queens and Assembly member Phara Souffrant Forrest of Brooklyn are pushing a bill that would ensure “consenting adults who trade sex, collaborate with or support peers, or patronize adult sex workers will not be criminalized.”

Souffrant Forrest is just as convinced that Krueger’s bill would make the problem worse.

“That model still does not protect people, particularly the sex workers,” Souffrant Forrest said of Krueger and Hunter’s bill. “Now you’re forcing people to go into hiding, into clandestine, and because you’re charging the john, it still does not remove the stigma.”

Salazar agreed: “In places where sex work is actually fully decriminalized, sex workers and people who are consenting adults who participate in the sex industry actually have the ability to report abuse and crimes they are afraid to report right now.”

The two bills are coming to a head as the legislative session is set to end June 6 and as victims’ advocates say sex trafficking and prostitution are on the rise in New York City and state. At the same time, arrests for prostitution and sex buyers has plummeted ever since district attorneys’ offices in the city largely stopped prosecuting prostitution cases.

The issue has led to open-air prostitution markets in parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Mayor Eric Adams has oft-expressed his concern about the problem, and he told reporters he visited Queens’ Roosevelt Avenue at 1:30 a.m. recently to observe the problem.

“This is where idealism collides with realism,” Adams told reporters at a media briefing in October. “While we are fighting to address the issues of sex workers, sex trafficking, there are elected officials who are fighting against us trying to legalize sex work.”

A few months later, the NYPD shut down 12 brothels on the avenue.

Krueger and Hunter’s bill would also increase penalties for individuals who traffic people to themselves for sex.

“We are witnessing in New York City, and probably at the Canadian border as well, a sex trafficking crisis that we haven’t seen in decades,” Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking for Women, said at a rally Tuesday at the Capitol.

“We’ve intercepted messages, emails and texts from pimps and traffickers from across the country, saying, ‘Come to New York City, it’s open for business, no one’s getting arrested.’” — Jason Beeferman

Source: Politico

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