New York introduces state bill decriminalizing sex work

New York lawmakers on Monday introduced a state-wide bill to decriminalize sex work that advocates are calling the first proposed legislation of its kind in the country.

The Stop Violence in the Sex Trade Acts is a package of bills that seeks to amend state statues in order to decriminalize sex work between consenting adults while upholding existing anti-trafficking laws. 

“Sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state," said state Sen. Julia Salazar (D), a lead sponsor of the bill, in a Decrim NY press release.

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The bill is backed by Decrim NY, a coalition of more than 30 organizations across LGBTQ, racial justice and immigrant rights. Decrim NY launched in February and lobbied in Albany in May for the decriminalization of sex work. 

Salazar added that the state's current policies empower traffickers, "keeping sex work in the shadows."

Other sponsors on the bill are state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D), and Democratic Assembly members Richard Gottfried and Yuh-Line Niou. 

"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," Ramos said in the release. 

The bill would also amend gendered language in the law to reflect the diverse genders in the LGBTQ community. 

"Criminalization kills our community. And criminalizing buyers hurts us, too. How are you going to help me by cutting my income?" said Cecilia Gentili, a former sex worker and advocate for the bill, at a press conference unveiling the bill.

Salazar clarified in an interview with BuzzFeed News that the decriminalization only refers to consenting adults. 

“Anything that involved children or coercion are things that we feel very strongly need to remain in the penal code," she said. 

According to Decrim NY, a national poll conducted in collaboration with Data for Progress in May found 56 percent of respondents support decriminalizing sex work, and just 17 percent oppose it. The poll found the remaining 27 percent were neutral or didn't know how they felt. 

The bill will likely face a battle in the Democratic-controlled state legislature. As BuzzFeed notes, decriminalization efforts for sex work have faced opposition from religious groups and anti-trafficking advocates. 

While Decrim NY's announcement called it "the first statewide bill of its kind in the nation’s history," former New Hampshire state Rep. Elizabeth Edwards (D) noted that she introduced similar state-wide legislation to decriminalize sex work in 2016.

--This report was updated on June 11 at 3:09 p.m.