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Manhattan will no longer prosecute prostitution

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced on Wednesday that his office would no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage.

The new policy, according to a press release from the office, will prevent unnecessary future contacts with the criminal justice system, eliminate the collateral consequences associated with having a prostitution case or conviction and “empower New Yorkers to interact with law enforcement without fear of arrest or deportation.”

“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 marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” Vance said in a statement.

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“By vacating warrants, dismissing cases, and erasing convictions for these charges, we are completing a paradigm shift in our approach,” he added.

Vance revealed the policy change at a virtual appearance in Manhattan Criminal Court when he moved to dismiss 914 prostitution and unlicensed massage cases, many of which dated back to the 1970s and 1980s.

Vance also moved to dismiss 5,080 loitering for the purpose of prostitution cases, which followed New York state’s repeal of a decades-old anti-loitering law in February, known as the “Walking While Trans” law.

The district attorney’s office, however, will continue to prosecute other crimes associated with prostitution, including patronizing sex workers and sex trafficking, The New York Times reported.

Abigail Swenstein, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project, applauded Vance’s policy change in a statement but still stressed the need for legislation that would “fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense.”

In January, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced that he planned to vacate more than 1,000 bench warrants related to prostitution and loitering.