Manhattan DA Vance Ends Prosecuting Sex Trade Survivors

Press Releases / April 21, 2021

Move is Applauded by Women’s Rights Advocates

New York – April 21, 2021 – After a sustained campaign calling on District Attorneys throughout New York to decline prosecuting women and LGBTQ individuals in the sex trade, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance joins Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez, Queens DA Melinda Katz, and Bronx DA Darcel Clark in seeking dismissal of thousands of outstanding past prostitution warrants. 

District Attorney Cyrus Vance is the first district attorney to publicly commit to not prosecuting unlicensed massage, as it relates to prostitution. Those arrests and prosecutions disproportionately affect Asian American women. 

“DA Vance is leaving a legacy that sets the bar for a fairer criminal justice approach as it relates to prostitution and massage parlors,” said Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women – New York. “This legal change will be meaningful for many women and will undoubtedly lead to cultural change.” 

In Manhattan and throughout New York City, patronizing prostitution, promoting prostitution, compelling prostitution, and sex trafficking will continue to be charged. The Manhattan DA’s office stated its policy strictly relates to prostitution, which refers to the person who is being bought for sex.

“The public needs to read past the headlines. When you hear that prostitution is decriminalized, that applies only to the person who is being bought for a sex act, not the sex trade as a whole,” Ossorio said. “Sex buyers perpetrate a vast amount of brutality on the world. Women, girls, and trans individuals are all too often the recipients of their entitlement and violence.” 

Sex buyers will continue to be held accountable to our communities, as will the third-party “promoters” who use tactics from love bombing at-risk youth to recruiting incarcerated women to targeting the most marginalized Black and brown women and girls in the poorest neighborhoods.

“It’s time to stop sugar-coating the reality of daily life in prostitution and face the history of patriarchy and colonialism that brought us the sex trade,” Ossorio said. “That reconciliation, at the intersection of gender and race, is now happening. The ongoing harms that permeate women’s lives must be addressed as systemic gender-based violence. It’s part of the societal progress we all yearn to achieve.” 

Currently in the New York State Legislature, a progressive piece of legislation is gaining traction that would put into law the gender-based policy changes that are reshaping criminal justice in New York City as it relates to commercial sexual exploitation and the sex trade. The Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act would end law enforcement’s ability to arrest people for prostitution in New York, while also vacating and expunging past convictions. It provides for increased access to comprehensive, trauma-informed mental health and healthcare services, and options for economic empowerment and independence. The proposed legislation has been introduced by Senator Liz Krueger of New York City (S6040) and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter of Syracuse (A7069). 

We extend tremendous gratitude to the human rights advocacy organizations and leaders who are raising awareness of the harms of the sex trade, provide direct services to survivors, nurture and provide survivor leadership training, and legal advocacy. They include, but are not limited to: Sanctuary for Families, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Not on My Watch, Covenant House New York,  ECPAT-USA, Graham Windham, Women’s Justice NOW, and World Without Exploitation.

Special thanks to Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) which led the effort to decriminalize children subjected to prostitution in New York, along with the Correctional Association of New York and the Legal Aid Society. The first law of its kind in the nation, the Safe Harbor Act became law in 2008 and ended the practice of arresting children 15 and younger. In 2015, it was extended to 16 and 17-year-olds. 

The National Organization for Women – New York (NOW-NY) advocates for women and girls across our state by working to defend reproductive rights, fight economic inequality, and end discrimination and violence against women.

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