New York Legalizing Prostitution

Since 2002, when the German law was passed, sex trafficking has reportedly at least tripled – there are now an estimated 400,000 people. Most of them are women and most come from other countries, driven by desperation and some of them are traded by third-party profiteers. Now Germany and the Netherlands are rethinking because their approach to legalizing prostitution has not had the desired effect. Other attempts to decriminalize sex trafficking elsewhere in the U.S. have been crushed through the efforts of coalitions like NYFEM. Recently, in Oregon, a campaign to create a voting initiative that would allow Oregon residents to vote on decriminalizing sex trafficking was scrapped in part because attorneys for human trafficking survivors filed a lawsuit over language allegedly appearing on the ballot. This threatened the petitioners` ability to collect more than 112,000 signatures from Oregon voters by the July 8 deadline. Petition efforts have been postponed until a court decision is rendered. In Washington, D.C., efforts to decriminalize prostitution failed after a fourteen-hour hearing filled with attorney references such as that of Yasmin Vafa, executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit Rights4Girls. It also strengthens human trafficking laws by removing a loophole in New York State law that prevents sex buyers like Jeffrey Epstein from being charged with promoting prostitution and eliminates the defenses of ignorance afforded to those who purchase sexual services from children under the age of 11 (1st degree). 15 years old (2nd degree) or in a school zone.

New York would be the first U.S. state to move beyond the archaic notion of women in prostitution as drivers of the industry, guilty of inciting innocent men to commit sinful acts. The responsibility for sex trafficking lies with buyers, who create demand for the commercialization of women, and the surrounding multi-billion dollar industry, which thrives on its exploitation. Those provided by a supply chain to meet this demand – mostly women and mostly women of color – should be protected rather than prosecuted. In response to questions from Rolling Stone, Emily Tuttle, assistant director of communications in Vance`s office, confirmed that the new policy would not interfere with the office`s approach to cases of human trafficking or paternalization arrests for third-degree prostitution. When asked if the bureau was aware of any data suggesting criminalizing the purchase of at-risk sex workers, Tuttle said, “The bureau is currently considering a number of legislative proposals.” Model laws on gender equality have already been implemented in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Ireland, Northern Ireland, France and Israel. There is evidence that the gender equality model reduces the demand for prostitution. After the introduction of the equality model, Sweden saw a 50% decrease in street prostitution and a significant decrease in the number of men who bought sexual services within two years of the introduction of the law.

In Norway, five years after the introduction of the equality model, street prostitution has decreased by 30 to 60 per cent and domestic prostitution by 10 to 20 per cent. While “progressive” Democrats are largely behind the push to decriminalize prostitution, the two New York bills and my lobbying experience show that support for decriminalizing sex trafficking is far from unanimous, even among identified “progressive” Democrats. It is unclear when politicians will vote on the two bills. Of course, these two powerful Democratic lobby groups won`t stop advocating for their causes, even if that means waiting for several more sessions of the state legislature until New York makes a final decision on what prostitution means for women`s rights. Will New York treat the sale of women and girls for sex like any other business, or declare prostitution a form of exploitation and a male right from which women and girls must be protected? The first bill, entitled “Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act”, would effectively legalize prostitution. Sen. Julia Salazar and Rep. Richard Gottfried introduced the bill in partnership with DecrimNY, a coalition of organizations that “work to decriminalize, demystify and destigmatize sex trafficking in New York City and State,” according to their website. Senator Salazar also introduced legislation that would allow men to identify themselves in women`s prisons. Alexi Meyers, a former prosecutor and advisor to the Partial Decriminalization Act, told me that if the Stop Violence Act repealed a law that criminalized the “promotion of prostitution” (referring to pimps) at the level of crimes, it would take “the bread and butter out of human trafficking cases.” The bill proposes to maintain the most relevant laws at the level of crimes, such as combating trafficking in minors or promoting prostitution in school zones. The largely “progressive” NYFEM alliance reminds us that opposition to prostitution is not limited to conservative or radical feminists, even though major human rights organizations such as the ACLU and Amnesty have been co-opted by the ideology of “sex work.” The Swedish model of gender equality decriminalizes all those exploited in prostitution by offering them services instead of punishment, while punishing those who would buy sex as a commodity.