Currently existing laws have criminal penalties for loitering in public with the purpose of prostitution, sex workers say police use such laws to harass them
More than 100 current and former sex workers from New York City who went to Albany to advocate for two pieces of legislation they say would protect them from abusive policing.
According to The Root, a 1976 New York state law allows police officers to arrest people for loitering for the purpose of prostitution, even though “purpose” is not clearly defined.
On Tuesday, sex workers rallied to encourage lawmakers to repeal the law - which they say the police use to harass people for their appearance.
More than 100 current and former sex workers rallied at New York’s Capitol on Tuesday to encourage lawmakers to repeal a loitering law they say police use to harass people simply for their appearance.https://t.co/rEGrgXWKDY— Love And Protect (@LoveProtectOrg) May 9, 2019
Members of the group known as Decrim NY said that while they’d prefer the complete decriminalization of prostitution, the elimination of criminal penalties for loitering would be a good start.
http://t.co/qn5SlPOg Advocates for New York sex workers call for legislation that would stop old bill bobbys officers confiscating condom...— Mao Zedong (@MOUTHofMAO) April 18, 2012
Advocates noted that many sex workers are underage, homeless or the victims of sex abuse or human trafficking. Criminal penalties, they said, do little but punish and stigmatize already vulnerable people who need access to housing, health care, and education.
Several assembly members and senators wrote a letter to the NYPD inspector general last month questioning the wisdom of policing sex trafficking alongside sex work between consenting adults.
“What do we want? #Decrim! When do we want it? Now!” #DecrimNY rally to end the practice of criminalizing #SexWork. I’m here in Albany with @MaketheRoadNY, @antiviolence, @HarmReduction, @housingworks, @GMHC, @VOCALNewYork, @CallenLorde, @NYTransAdvocacy, @RedCanarySong, + more! pic.twitter.com/lOmX0mL65V— Mike Selick (@Mike_Selick) May 7, 2019
Activists say that the existing laws allow for too much space for abuse by police officers, who can take advantage of people taken into custody on prostitution charges. That’s why activists arrived at the state Capitol after 9 a.m. Tuesday, hoping to convince lawmakers to back the legislation before the annual legislative session ends next month.
More than 100 current and former sex workers are encouraging New York lawmakers to repeal a loitering law they say police use to harass people simply for their appearance. https://t.co/xhiRvCmX4Z pic.twitter.com/hl2qdftwOI— Channel 3 News (@wcax) May 8, 2019
One of the bills, S02253/A00654, would lead to the repeal of the loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute. Known as the “Walking While Trans” ban, the statute lets police arrest people based on their appearance, or if they are suspected of trying to trade sex for money—even though what constitutes suspicion is not well defined and has been unevenly applied.
Between 2012 and 2015, more than 85 percent of the people arrested in New York City under the statute were black and Latinx women.
The best way to promote rights, health, and safety of sex workers is to decriminalize sex work. Donate here to support the coalition to decrim, decarcerate, and destigmatize sex work in New York: https://t.co/aHKk5PIwXy via @CrowdRise— big applegail (@abigailasper) April 22, 2019
The other bill, S04981/A06983, allows for trafficking survivors to have their records cleared of any charges levied in connection to what traffickers forced them to do. But New York only allows trafficking survivors to clear prostitution-related records, not the drug and trespass-related ones that also stem from the trafficking they had to survive.
Two people died and the best this TV station could do was further shame and criminalize the victims while fully reporting their tragedy from the perspective of cops who may very possibly be harassing sex workers they supposedly “protect” the community from?— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) May 9, 2019
This is awful. https://t.co/Sommlnagu0
Neither bill is scheduled for a vote, and there is a strong chance that lawmakers will not get to them before the annual session ends.
Activists are saying that they have spent a considerable amount of time and lobbying efforts to educate lawmakers on how different sex work is from sex trafficking - a difference that gets lost during debates. They also made clear that the bills they are pushing would still let law enforcement go after traffickers.