Nearly a hundred sex workers and former sex workers rallied in Albany on Tuesday to call for decriminalization of their work. Jessica Raven said she began doing sex work after becoming homeless as a teenager.
"Sometimes, the people who took me in expected sex in exchange for a place to stay and sometimes that was a deal I was willing to make," Raven said at a rally. "I did not see sex as the problem; I saw lack of stable housing as the problem. And sex was packaged with the solution."
Advocates have been pushing for decriminalization, arguing that enforcement is selective and often disproportionately targets non-gender-conforming individuals and people of color. One bill that the state Senate is considering would repeal the loitering for the purpose of prostitution statute. Another would expunge the criminal records of sex workers.
"We want to ensure that the criminal record, especially if you are a trafficking survivor — meaning you shouldn't have had a record in the first place — you should have the quickest path to economic opportunity as possible," Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos said at the rally.
But there is no bill yet to fully decriminalize sex work. Brooklyn State Sen. Julia Salazar says she is working on it and these other bills are a good first step.
"I definitely think so," Salazar said. "It's complimentary and also steps toward full decriminalization, both elevating it in the public discourse and bringing some relief to people who have been in the sex industry."
Critics say decriminalizing sex work is the wrong direction for New York.
"Instead of focusing on real economic issues that would provide opportunity for women, provide opportunity for new immigrants, they want to legalize sex work and say that is how people pay their bills. It's completely outrageous," said Nicole Malliotakis, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn in the state Assembly and is running for the 11th Congressional District.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the debate hasn't really been on his radar. "I know they are talking about it. I haven't seen any specific proposal or any specific bill," he said at an unrelated news conference Tuesday.
The Democratic majority in the Assembly has also not discussed the issue. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he is open to having a thoughtful conversation about the issue.
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