June 3 2019

Push is On to Decriminalized Prostitution – Sex Trafficking Children Included! What’s Next?

Marijuana has gone mainstream, casino gambling is everywhere and sports wagering is spreading. Could prostitution be next? Lawmakers across the…

Marijuana has gone mainstream, casino gambling is everywhere and sports wagering is spreading. Could prostitution be next? Lawmakers across the country are beginning to reconsider how to handle prostitution, as calls for decriminalization are slowly gaining momentum.

Decriminalization bills have been introduced in Maine and Massachusetts; a similar bill is expected to be introduced to the City Council in Washington D.C. in June; and lawmakers in Rhode Island held hearings in April on a proposal to study the impact of decriminalizing prostitution.

New York may be next: Some Democratic lawmakers are about to propose a comprehensive decriminalization bill that would eliminate penalties for both women and men engaged in prostitution, as well as the johns whom they service.

“This is about the oldest profession, and understanding that we haven’t been able to deter or end it, in millennia,” said Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat from Queens who is one of the plan’s backers. “So I think it’s time to confront reality.”

The New York legislation appears unlikely to pass in the coming months, but the idea of decriminalization has already amassed a growing coterie of prominent supporters, suggesting that it might continue to gain traction.

The debate is unquestionably polarizing in many circles, even among advocates for sex-trafficked and abused women who fear that creating a legal path for prostitution will not eliminate, but rather actually encourage, underground sex trafficking.

And decriminalization is already facing intense pushback in state capitals from opponents who call the measures naïve and potentially dangerous.

Still, the issue has crept into the Democratic Party’s nascent presidential campaign: In late February, Senator Kamala Harris of California became the first candidate to endorse some manner of decriminalization, an idea also floated by another contender, the former Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper.

Prostitution is legal only in a few counties in Nevada, and even there, the brothel industry had to recently beat back a bill that would have outlawed prostitution in the state. And even the most optimistic of those pushing for changes do not believe that any state will soon fully decriminalize prostitution.

But in places like New York, where Democrats now control the State Legislature after a slew of Republican incumbents were unseated in November by Democratic challengers running on progressive platforms, there is no question that the environment has changed.

At a recent rally in Albany to repeal a statute criminalizing loitering for the purposes of prostitution, former sex workers stood next to lawmakers like Senator Ramos and Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, the chairman of the health committee.

Organizers of the protest cast their efforts as a civil and economic rights battle — reflecting a broader progressive passion for gay and transgender rights, as well as criminal justice reform — that was also defending the rights of minorities and illegal immigrants, and even “bodily autonomy,” the ability to make ends meet by any means necessary.

“I did not see sex as the problem,” said Jessica Raven, a community organizer and former underage prostitute who was one of dozens of sex workers who rallied in Albany in May. “I saw lack of stable housing as the problem.”

Nonetheless, some advocates for sex-trafficked and abused women characterize such efforts in New York and elsewhere as misguided. They believe that full decriminalization will create a demand that will be filled by more women.

“Prostitution is inherently violent,” said Ane Mathieson, a program specialist at Sanctuary for Families, a Manhattan-based organization that serves victims of domestic violence and is part of an anti-decriminalization coalition. “Sex buying promotes sex trafficking, promotes pimping and organized crime, and sexual exploitation of children.”

The push to present decriminalization as a civil rights issue also upset Laura Ramirez, a coordinator for AF3IRM, an international feminist group, who said she was “absolutely appalled at the fact that this is being sold as something that’s progressive.”

“This proposed legislation is the most classist, racist and absolutely obtuse legislation that we have ever seen,” Ms. Ramirez said, during a counterprotest opposing decriminalization in Albany, adding “women and girls of this state deserve better.”

Ms. Mathieson and others who work with women in the sex trade say that supporters of decriminalization gloss over a raft of gruesome details about the profession, including rape, physical abuse by clients and pimps, commonplace drug use and an often ravaging physical toll of multiple sex partners, sometimes in the span of a few hours.

“They have accepted a kind of myth about the sex industry of the happy hooker and victimless crimes,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, the head of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York, adding, “It’s a fantasy perpetuated and accepted by the media.” (Read More)

And then what is to come next in the rung down the ladder from legalizing prostitution, when you have activists and others promoting legalization of child prostitution, as quoted by feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem?

“It is crucial to decriminalize prostituted women, men and children,” Ms. Steinem wrote in a statement, offering her endorsement of the Nordic model at a recent demonstration at City Hall in New York City aimed at fighting efforts in Albany.