Manhattan Will No Longer Prosecute Prostitution
In a landmark decision, Manhattan will stop prosecuting prostitution, and will also dismiss hundreds of cases that are clogging up the system.
District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced today, April 21, that his office will no longer prosecute prostitution or illegal massage, which is a huge step towards criminal reform and the way the justice system defines and looks upon sex professions.
Even though sex work has often been portrayed in the mainstream in a negative light, liberal attitudes are progressing towards normalising it as a socially-accepted profession. Illegality, as Vance Jr. said, serves nobody.
In a statement, Vance Jr. said:
Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: Criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalising vulnerable New Yorkers.
Making an appearance in court via virtual means, he requested a judge dismiss 914 open cases against prostitution and unlicensed massage, The Independent reports.
The above is in addition to 5,080 open cases that had targeted sex workers for loitering with the intention of soliciting sex. This move comes after New York State’s repeal of the ‘Walking While Trans’ statute – one that appeared to significantly target Black trans women – that allowed police to arrest anyone they believed to be selling sex, or even if they were dressed a certain way while standing on the street.
Vance Jr. expressed his support for the motion, agreeing that the LGBTQ+ community were unfairly targeted by this by a somewhat discriminatory approach.
Incredibly, some out of the thousands of cases go as far back as the 1970s, to a time where the law took a zero-tolerance policy towards sex workers in the city. He described that as ‘both a relic of a different New York, and a very real burden for the person who carries the conviction or bench warrant’.
Instead of arresting sex workers, the new proposal will seek to offer support and any additional services to make the industry a less taboo subject – and also safer. ‘By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach,’ he confirmed.
While the move is being praised, sex work in its entirety needs to be decriminalised, suggests The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project staff attorney, Abigail Swenstein. ‘However,’ she said, ‘this policy should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalise sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offence.’
Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, hailed it as an important leap forward in an industry that disproportionally affected Black and Brown, trans and queer women.
She said, ‘New York City is showing we can do what it takes to do right for all of us!’
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