NYC mayor looks to decriminalize sex work, Queens to dismiss 700 cases

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021
NYC looks to decriminalize sex work, Queens to dismiss 700 cases
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Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz moved on Tuesday to dismiss nearly 700 cases against people charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz moved on Tuesday to dismiss nearly 700 cases against people charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution.

The move came the same day Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to decriminalize sex work.

The loitering for the purpose of prostitution law was repealed last month out of concern it too often targeted women, trans people and people of color based solely on their appearance.

"Historical data shows that enforcement of this statute had primarily been used to arrest people based on their gender or appearance," Katz said. "Dismissing cases related to this unfair and now repealed statute frees members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests."

The request came as prosecutors across the country are rethinking their views of prostitution. It is no longer viewed entirely as a crime but often as a consequence of sex trafficking.

"Instead of prosecuting these defendants, we need to provide a helping hand by connecting them with meaningful services, support options and the necessary tools that will assist them to safely exit the sex trade if that is what they choose to do," Katz said.

She asked the Queens Supreme Court to dismiss:

146 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on open cases charging 240.37 and related charges.

84 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on cases charging 240.37 and related charges who failed to appear after pleading guilty.

443 cases of defendants with outstanding warrants on pending cases charging 230.00 (prostitution) and related charges.

New York City advocates praised the mayor's new proposal to support sex workers and victims of human trafficking.

This reform is part of the larger New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative draft plan.

Officials say through the initiative, the city will develop new strategies to combat trafficking while working to eliminate arrests for selling sex.

"It's time to decriminalize sex workers and focus our enforcement on those who exploit and profit off a broken system," said de Blasio. "We are calling on the State to end criminal penalties for sex workers and help us reach those in need without requiring involvement with the criminal justice system."

Under the proposed reform, the city will create a state legislative frameworks for decriminalizing sex work and supporting people who are victimized by trafficking.

To expand services for sex workers, the city will explore pre-arrest program models to offer community-centered services to sex workers without conducting arrest as a condition of receipt, as opposed to post-arrest diversion which relies on offering services as a condition of release from arrest or incarceration.

The city says it will also explore and refine proposals related to sex work programs and services, especially sex worker led health, employment and safety programs.

Supportive community-based services for sex workers will be expanded, including creating new partnerships outside of law enforcement by formalizing the Task Force on Health and Safety Needs of Sex workers led by the NYC Unity Project and Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence (ENDGBV).

The NYPD will also review policies and procedures for identifying and investigating human trafficking to develop alternative methods that focus on arresting traffickers without further criminalizing and harming those directly involved in the sex trade and to address the racialized enforcement of sex work.

While arrests are driven by complaints, the vast majority of individuals arrested for prostitution-related charges continue to be Black and Hispanic. Officials say they will collaborate with other agencies to maximize their ability to arrest and prosecute traffickers and violent offenders without collateral trauma to people engaged in consensual sex work or who are victims of exploitation.

"People in the sex trades have long been marginalized, stigmatized, and criminalized in ways that are unhelpful at best and violent at worst," said Ashe McGovern, Executive Director of the NYC Unity Project. "We are eager for the opportunity to work across the Administration and citywide with our community partners to support a Task Force that centers and prioritizes the lived experiences of sex workers and begins with the core and fundamental presumption that all people in the sex trades deserve respect, autonomy, and dignity-at work, in their daily lives, and when seeking out city services and support."

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