Equality Model will decriminalize people in prostitution, increase access to social services, and hold sex buyers accountable through fines. Statutes on pimping will not be changed.
January 25, 2021 — New York, NY – Today NOW-NY President Sonia Ossorio joined with State Senator Liz Krueger, Assembly Member Pamela Hunter, and the New Yorkers for the Equality Model, in support of the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act, new legislation that will address prostitution in New York State. The bill was developed in partnership with survivors of the sex trade and advocates from many organizations that provide services to survivors, including Sanctuary for Families and the Coalition Against Trafficking for Women. If passed, it will be the first law of its kind in the United States.
This bill aims to support people in prostitution, while holding the sex buyers who fuel demand for a sex market and the pimps and traffickers who profit from the exploitation that happens in the commercial sex industry accountable. It would decriminalize people in prostitution in New York and allow past convictions of prostitution to be vacated and expunged. Additionally, it would expand access for victim services by raising the maximum qualifying age for victims seeking care from 17 to 24. The legislation upholds statutes that hold accountable pimps, traffickers, brothel owners and illicit massage parlor owners, strengthens anti-trafficking laws, and addresses the harmful cultural practices of men buying access to women’s bodies.
“What this bill doesn’t allow is a wholesale decriminalization of the sex trade. New Yorkers can rest assured that the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act does not extend legal protections to sex buyers and pimps and brothel owners, “said Sonia Ossorio, president, National Organization for Women – New York Chapter (NOW-NY).” New York will not become the next sex tourism destination, pimps will not become the new class of legit entrepreneurs, pop up brothels will not open in vacant storefronts and men will not get a legal pass to double down on male sexual privilege. They won’t get the state’s blessing to order up sex acts for delivery.”
“I believe the role of progressive government is to champion those with less power against systems of exploitation that seek to take advantage of their marginalization,” said Senator Krueger, who represents the 28th Senate District in New York City. “We need to empower and support people who are currently or formerly in the sex trade, whether they ended up there out of necessity or through trafficking. At the same time we must address the violence, exploitation, and trauma that is inherent in the buying and selling of sex by continuing to hold pimps, brothel owners, and sex buyers accountable for the harms that they cause. I have listened to survivors, and have studied the data carefully, and I believe that the Equality Model is the best way to achieve these goals.”
“It has become increasingly clear that our law enforcement efforts are misapplied when it comes to prostitution and sex trafficking,” said Assembly Member Hunter, who represents the 128th Assembly District in Syracuse. “Most who engage in prostitution do so out of coercion or desperation. Our efforts should focus on the traffickers and others who exploit the disadvantaged. Additionally, we should provide support and new opportunities for the previously exploited, not punish them. The Equality Model achieves those ends and is what we should pursue for New York.”
“Prostitution and sex trafficking across the U.S. and in New York State are rooted in a history of colonization and slavery in this country,” said Melanie Thompson, survivor advocate. “Black and Indigenous POC, people experiencing homelessness, foster youth and undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly represented in the sex trade — many of whom are trans folx and LGBTQIA+ individuals. We are exploited and targeted because of our vulnerabilities, marginalization and lack of resources. The Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act recognizes that we must shrink the sex trade by targeting the demand for it, therefore minimizing the amount of people that are trafficked into prostitution to fulfil its supply”
“The Sex Trade Survivors Act follows the Equality Model that decriminalizes people in prostitution, but does not let buyers and pimps off the hook for the harm they are causing,” said Cristian Eduardo, survivor advocate. “Through this model, we can make sure that those in prostitution are not being prosecuted or punished and that they have access to critical services including physical and mental health care, housing, education, and economic empowerment solutions that will benefit both their safety and their health. Introducing this bill is a historic moment, a true reform of the criminal justice system made possible by listening to and working with survivors.”
Decriminalization of people in prostitution, expungement of past prostitution convictions and vacatur of crimes committed while under the control of an exploiter, and expanded access to services are key to the bill. The advocates also emphasized that the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act will work to hold accountable those who cause lifelong harm in the sex trade.
“We have a decision to make,” said Rev. Que English, founder/CEO, Not on My Watch, Inc. “Our future generation will either succumb to a state that is pimp-controlled with an increase in human trafficking, increase in violence and deaths, and legal brothels filled with individuals from our Black and Brown communities. Or, we can offer real services and resources to those being prostituted, and put greater pressure in addressing demand. We must — it is not an option — pass this bill.”
The Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act addresses key concerns raised by people in prostitution, survivor leaders and policy experts, translating the Equality Model framework to the New York State context. It would:
- Decriminalize people in prostitution and many associated crimes (such as the “Walking While Trans Ban”), prevent the arrest of people for “unlicensed practice of a profession,” prevent people in prostitution from being charged with “promoting prostitution” for helping others also in prostitution without profiting, prohibits usage of condoms of evidence in criminal trials for prostitution
- Expand access to comprehensive social services, extend services for minors to young adults up to age 24, enable a broader pool of people to access services from organizations combating gender violence, and create a diverse and inclusive state task force with representation from people in the sex trade and advocates to ensure access and administration of social services
- Strengthen laws against trafficking, while laws that hold accountable pimps, sex traffickers, and other profiteers remain unchanged. Eliminate a loophole in NY state law preventing sex buyers from being charged with “promoting prostitution” when they traffic people to themselves, strengthens protections for children by eliminating an “ignorance defense” afforded to those who buy sex from children under age 11, or under 15, or in a school zone — different degrees of patronizing prostitution.
- Advance criminal justice reform by clearing survivors’ records for crimes committed while under the control of their exploiter and expunging past charges for prostitution and associated loitering crimes. Further, to address the over-incarceration of people of color and implicit bias in law enforcement, the misdemeanor crime of buying sex will be penalized with a fine (rather than jail), using an income-based scale to incentivize law enforcement to target buyers with disposable income.
The National Organization for Women – New York (NOW New York) advocates for women and girls across our state by working to defend reproductive rights, fight economic inequality, and end discrimination and violence against women.
New Yorkers for the Equality Model is a survivor-led alliance of more than thirty advocates, prostitution and sex trafficking survivors, and cross-sector organizational partners seeking to implement the Equality Model, decriminalizing only individuals in prostitution, in New York State. www.equalitymodelny.org
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