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Bill to decriminalize prostitution introduced in New York State

Photographee.eu I Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 06/12/19

Opponents to decriminalization include both religious and feminist organizations.

Prostitution is legal in the United States only in a few counties of the state of Nevada. But some legislators in New York State would like to see that expanded.

On Monday, two freshman Democratic state senators from New York City introduced the “Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act,” which would allow paid sex between consenting adults. Both the buying and the selling of sex, as well as promotion of prostitution, would be decriminalized. Trafficking, coercion and sexual abuse of minors would still be illegal.

At this point, however, it may be more of a symbolic act than anything, because the legislative session will end next Wednesday. In addition, Andrew M. Cuomo, who was elected to a third term as governor last fall, has taken no position on the issue.

A coalition called Decrim NY is the organization behind the effort to decriminalize prostitution in New York State. “I’ve been waiting for this day for 30 years,” Cecilia Gentili, a member of the coalition, told the New York Times, which identified her as a transgender woman who did sex work. “We are trying to change the lives of many New Yorkers who have historically been criminalized for using their bodies to survive. And it’s time we change that.”

Supporters have a utilitarian outlook on the issue. Richard N. Gottfried, chairman of the State Assembly’s health committee and a longtime supporter of decriminalization, said that making prostitution illegal “has not worked in a couple of thousand years. And requiring sex workers to work in an underground, illegal environment, promotes abuse and exploitation.”

“We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows and ensure that they are protected,” State Senator Jessica Ramos, a freshman Democrat from Queens, said in a news conference. “We will finally make strides against trafficking by empowering sex workers to report violence against them. Sex work is work, and everyone has an inherent right to a safe workplace.”

Opponents to decriminalization include both religious and feminist organizations.

“The prostitution legalization bill is perhaps the clearest example yet of a disturbing anti-woman trend among some on the far left of the New York political scene,” Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, told Aleteia. “If passed, obviously, it would succeed only in dehumanizing women and turning their bodies into a form of legal commerce, while encouraging and emboldening pimps and traffickers whose shady business would suddenly become legal and above board.”

Poust noted that there is also a proposal in Albany that would legalize commercial gestational surrogacy. Both bills are “two sides of the same coin,” he said. “Both exploit women’s bodies in risky, dangerous ways, for the benefit of men. Both have been tried in other countries as social experiments, and have been tragic failures. The gestational surrogacy bill is a priority for well-to-do gay male couples who want a baby with a biological connection to one or both parties. But it will be at the expense of poor women in financial need, who stand to be exploited by baby brokers. The prostitution bill will be a boon for immoral men, but a disaster for women everywhere.”

The National Organization for Women is also opposed to the bill, saying it would give legitimacy to brothels and pimps.

“Pimps would now just be promoters,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York City chapter of NOW, told the Times. “You can’t protect the exploited by protecting the exploiters.”

Ossorio, however, said she supports a form of partial decriminalization known as the “Nordic model,” which emphasizes the prosecution of people who buy sex, but not the prostitutes themselves, the Times said.

There have been similar efforts in several other states and the District of Columbia to decriminalize prostitution.

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