Manhatten Moves To Decriminalize Sex Work

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said on Wednesday, April 21, that his office would no longer prosecute prostitution cases.

Along with stopping prosecuting prostitution and unlicensed massage arrests, Vance announced that his office would drop nine-hundred and fourteen cases dating back to the 1970s.

This is a significant moment in the movement as one of the most high-profile law enforcement offices in the United States makes progress towards reforming the criminal justice system’s approach to sex work.

A Moves To Decriminalize Sex Work

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In addition to the nine-hundred and fourteen cases, the office is moving to dismiss over five thousand cases for loitering for prostitution.

“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.
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Vance added that by dismissing cases and erasing past convictions, they are rethinking the framework in which they regard sex work. 

Changing The Perspective on Sex Work

However, the office will continue to prosecute prostitution-related crimes like patronizing sex workers or promoting prostitution and sex trafficking.

In essence, that would mean that the office will continue prosecuting customers (or those who pay for sex), pimps, and sex traffickers.

Members of the Female Sex Workers Association in Malawi participate in a march in Lilongwe, on January 28, 2021, to demonstrate against governments COVID-19 preventive measures put in place by Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera; among them the reduced time when bars are to be open. – The sex workers argue that the instruction from government to bar owners that the bars be opened only from 2pm to 8pm will compromise the business of sex work which is done at night when most clients are free from their everyday business activities. (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP) (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

In response, Maya Morena, a sex worker rights activist, highlighted how the office will still be criminalizing the third party, which Morena points out often includes “anyone we pay, including our landlords, friends, drivers, are criminalized.” Not only that, but Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, once spotlighted how the most affected communities were “L.G.B.T.Q., they are people of color, and they are undocumented immigrants.”  

An Ongoing Fight

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This recent decision taken by the DA puts New York City on the list of cities with Philadelphia and Baltimore, which have made similar announcements. In light of the discussion around decriminalizing sex work.

Though the cries have gotten louder, the fight for sex work to be decriminalized has been ongoing for decades. While this announcement by Mr. Vance is a step and well-intended, there is still much to do to shift the framework in which sex work is perceived by the law and society.

Written By:
Tumisang Mosito

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