Some Democratic lawmakers hope to see New York become the first state to decriminalize sex work. "Anything that involved children or coercion are things that we feel very strongly need to remain in the penal code," but "sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state," says state Sen. Julia Salazar, one of the lead sponsors of the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act. If passed, the measures introduced Monday would not only decriminalize sex work between consenting adults, but vacate prior convictions for certain people involved in the sex trade. "This entire conversation really happens under the banner of reducing violence," says state Senate co-sponsor Jessica Ramos, per BuzzFeed News. "We don't want sex workers to experience violence at the hands of customers, or the police, or anybody." If sex work is decriminalized while anti-trafficking laws remain, bill sponsors say, sex workers will be able to safely report violence against them.
Decrim NY, a coalition of more than 30 groups in support of the bill, believes jail is no place for consenting adults who engage in sex acts. And it says most Democrats are of the same opinion, citing a poll conducted in May that found 56% of Democratic respondents support decriminalizing sex work, compared to 17% in opposition, per the Hill and Guardian. Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris has said she is open to such a move, reports the Root. Still, there are plenty of opponents. Sanctuary for Families, which represents survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence, worries the bills would give a stamp of approval to a system in which women and girls are "commodities," per NBC News. Nevada is currently the only state to allow legal prostitution in some form. (Amnesty International has called to decriminalize the sex trade.)