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State Lawmakers to Introduce Bills Decriminalizing Sex Work

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The grassroots effort to legalize sex work took a big step forward Monday when State Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried announced they would introduce a legislative package to decriminalize the industry among consenting adults.

Ramos, Salazar and Gottfried joined Decrim NY, a coalition of more than 20 organizations, at a rally in Manhattan on Monday to protect the rights of sex workers. Decrim NY advocates for repealing misdemeanor prostitution charges for consenting adults and clearing prostitution records for people who were charged in the past.

”I’ve seen sex workers on Roosevelt Avenue nearly my entire life. I’ve met some neighbors who simply want to erase the people working there,” said Ramos, chair of the state Senate’s Labor Committee. “Ultimately, sex work is work. Decriminalizing sex work will protect sex workers from exploitation, allow them to seek protection from trafficking, and will help victims of sex trafficking seek justice.”

The package of legislation includes an existing bill that would vacate all convictions where the offense was a result of being trafficked and another bill to repeal the “loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute.”

Loitering arrests increased last year for the first time in at least six years, Documented reported. Many of the people arrested for loitering for the purposes of prostitution are transgender individuals or undocumented immigrants. Under federal immigration law, a prostitution-related charge can prevent an undocumented immigrant from securing documented status.

“As a transgender woman who did sex work, I have experienced oppression and prejudice from the police, immigration authorities and even social service organizations because I was trading sex,” daid Cecilia Gentili, a member of Decrim NY’s steering committee, in a statement. “Until we decriminalize sex work, the people most impacted by criminalization — trans people, people of color, and undocumented people — will continue to be treated as less than the full humans they are.”

Decrim NY also calls on the city to take the money currently used to fund vice policing and mandated programs for people arrested for sex work and use it to fund harm reduction services instead.

“Full decriminalization best protects the rights and safety of people who trade sex … In reality, these laws target loved ones, family, landlords, drivers and other people providing care and services to sex workers, which isolates and stigmatizes people who trade sex. Oftentime peers in the sex trade help each other find clients and then get charged with trafficking,” said Jessica Raven, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project and a member of the Decrim NY steering committee.

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Letter : In solidarity with Sex Workers SafeSpace London, ON

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Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights is a non-for profit community made up of members who are Sex Workers, advocates, allies, and former Sex Workers. Our main focus in Sault Ste. Marie is to provide harm reduction tools directly to Sex Workers anonymously and discreetly and to create a safe space for workers.

We have spent over three years providing public forums to the community to create sex worker rights conversations and to provide general information about Sex work and the criminalization that negatively impacts Sex workers in Canada.

As a collective we share important information with and amongst Sex workers rights organizations such as SWANS SUDBURY, SAFESPACE LONDON, the PACE SOCIETY in Vancouver – just to make a few. It is fair to say according to Sex workers that billC-36 (the legislation that governs prostitution) is unfair, unjust, unconstitutional, and harmful for sex workers and clients. Criminalizing and potentially convicting human beings for buying services from professional sex workers is dangerous to the sex work profession – if clients are scared to reach out to Sex workers then workers’ income decreases, which means Sex workers are more likely to start working underground for pimps or go from working from their own comfortable and safe homes to working in unsafe environments. It has come to our attention with a recent news article that has been circulating the internet that police in London Ontario are cracking down on buyers of services from sex workers and will be publishing buyers names publicly.

As a community, we are deeply concerned that threatening the clients of Sex workers will increase violence, harmful working conditions, and workers will now work underground which will create even more unsafe conditions. We stand beside SafeSpace London with their concerns in regards to how dangerous it is to shame, further stigmatize, and publicly humiliate clientele of sex workers. We believe in the dignity and anonymity of adult consensual services and we strongly disagree with further marginalizing Sex workers and clients. After all clients are your husbands, physicians, law enforcement officers, retirees, your parents, and even your siblings. Clients of Sex workers should not be criminalized or charged unless they endanger a sex worker in which the worker should have a right to report (but most workers don’t feel safe enough to report to police because we are stigmatized and condemned for the profession we’ve chose).

The police in Ontario have once again created a loud and visual division between Sex workers and the law enforcement. It’s no wonder many Sex workers in our communities do not trust the police. Sex workers rely heavily on income generation from our clients and if our clients are charged with buying Sex then we loose out on income, which means Sex workers won’t be able to pay rent, buy groceries, support their families and ultimately they become even more vulnerable to more unsafe working conditions. The city of Sault Ste. Marie still has not recognized or acknowledged the importance of having a safe space designated for Sex Workers which has created a misunderstanding and interpretation of how Sex work is an important and relevant part of our community here in the north.

The HOPE ALLIANCE in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario uses a saviour approach and is an anti human Sex trafficking organization that works closely with the police and therefore intimidates willing and confident Sex workers to access their services in the downtown core on Gore street where they run out of the neighbourhood resource centre.

The HOPE ALLIANCE was created to abolish Sex workers, not necessarily provide services, compassion, or support to local Sex workers. Sault Ste. Marie Sex workers stands beside SafeSpace London and supports them in their fight to combat police misunderstanding of the sex work profession. Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights has never been asked to join any forum or workshop on the efforts to combat human Sex trafficking, which is ironic considering Sex workers are the most important part of a discussion when it comes to making decisions about how to create safe working conditions for sex workers and how to end human Sex trafficking.

We stand in solidarity with SafeSpace London and all Sex workers’ Rights organizations across Canada and even globally. As proud members of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, we will continue to work diligently to make sure Sex workers are safe and heard. We believe that full decriminalization will benefit Sex workers and clients as well as the overall safety of the profession. We will continue to fight the good fight. Founder of Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights

https://saultonline.com/2019/02/letter-in-solidarity-with-sex-workers-safespace-london-on/
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Sex workers demand meeting with Sen. Kamala Harris, question her commitment to decriminalization

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Activists say that Sen. Kamala Harris‘ stated support for decriminalizing sex work “rings false” given her history as a prosecutor and are seeking a meeting with the 2020 presidential contender to press her on the issue.

Ms. Harris signaled her support for decriminalizing the world’s oldest profession in an interview Tuesday, and activists on Wednesday sought to correct the record by arguing the former prosecutor is actually backing the “Nordic Model” — not actual decriminalization.

“The Nordic Model diverts resources from people who trade sex, including survivors of trafficking, to policing, raids, immigration detention and evictions. It fails to address the root causes of labor exploitation in the sex trades, which are poverty, LGBTQ discrimination and lack of access to affordable housing,” said Jessica Raven, executive director at The Audre Lorde Project and member of Decrim NY’s Steering Committee. “The Nordic Model perpetuates a false savior mentality that makes us feel good while actually failing to address why trafficking is happening and preventing it before it happens.”

Decrim NY is working with state lawmakers in New York on legislation to legalize prostitution, arguing the current approach does more harm than good.

“Decrim NY demands meeting with Sen. Harris so community members can share how criminalization impacts their human rights and safety,” the group said in a press release Wednesday. “Decrim NY also calls on all presidential candidates to support the full decriminalization of sex work to promote the safety, wellbeing, and health of all people in the sex trades.”

In an interview with The Root, Ms. Harris said, “We can’t criminalize consensual behavior as long as no one is being harmed.” She also talked about how she pushed as district attorney in San Francisco in 2004 to stop arresting

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“One of the Most Taboo Conversations” — New Yorkers Push to Decriminalize Sex Work

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Tears welled up in the eyes of many of the 150-plus people gathered in New York City’s Foley Square on Monday afternoon. Not all the tears came because of the frigid winds of the “bomb cyclone” blowing through the region. Instead, standing before the crowd, Cecilia Gentili almost began to cry because of the strides taken for the cause she was there to promote. “It feels surreal to be here, talking about this. It’s very emotional for me as a former sex worker,” said Gentili, an advocate for sex workers’ and transgender rights. “We will decriminalize sex work. We’re doing it.”

Behind Gentili stood more than 30 supporters of sex workers’ rights, holding protest signs bearing slogans like “Sex work is work” and “Arrests only save police budgets.” The rally and press conference marked the launch of the DecrimNY campaign that has a coalition of over 20 organizations pushing for the full decriminalization of sex work, the decarceration of sex workers, and the destigmatization of that most censured industry. The launch also celebrated the coming introduction in the New York State House and Senate of what DecrimNY described as “the most comprehensive state-level decriminalization bill in the country.”

“This is one of the most taboo conversations for us to be having as a society. And we are not going to stop.”

“This is one of the most taboo conversations for us to be having as a society,” New York state Sen. Jessica Ramos told the Foley Square rally. “And we are not going to stop.” Ramos will be introducing the decriminalization bill this spring alongside newly elected democratic socialist Sen. Julia Salazar, Sen. Brad Hoylman, and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, all Democrats.

The mere introduction of decriminalization legislation marks a major and hard-won point of progress in the public discussion around sex workers’ rights. It is a welcome statement for those who have been long disappointed in politicians with allegedly progressive agendas standing on the wrong side of history when it comes to sex workers’ rights. (Think of when Sen. Bernie Sanders voted to support the misleadingly titled Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, known as SESTA-FOSTA, which cripples sex workers’ ability to work safely online.)

Rejecting longstanding criminal justice frameworks, which insist that sex workers are always both criminal and victim, full decriminalization would recognize that sex work is work — and not the business of the police and courts. For many, sex work may not be good work, or always free of exploitation, and it may be resorted to as a means of survival. But the very same is true of many jobs in which workers are nonetheless deemed worthy of rights and legal protections as workers.

The history of labor struggle is not the history of workers fighting for the love of their work; as authors and sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith remind us in their new book, “Revolting Prostitutes,” when British coal miners in the 1980s went on strike, it was not because they loved mining. And, as the advocates and elected officials pushing for sex work decriminalization make clear, any feminist and workers’ rights movement worthy of the description would be a failure if sex workers are excluded.

To fight for the decriminalization of sex work is to fight for and with society’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities, in particular women of color and of immigration backgrounds, especially transgender women who often rely on sex work when discriminated against in other industries. Black women account for 94 percent of people arrested for the absurd and capacious charge of “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Thus, to ignore the struggle for sex workers’ rights is de facto to allow their lives not to matter.

“I ran away from an abusive foster home and traded sex to access housing when I was 15,” said Jessica Raven, executive director of the Audre Lorde Project and a member of the DecrimNY steering committee, in a statement. “Whether we are trading sex by choice, by circumstance, or by coercion, we all need the same things: We need safety from violence, freedom from criminalization, and access to basic needs like housing and healthcare.”

Only full decriminalization will satisfy Raven and others in the DecrimNY coalition. The so-called Nordic model, in which only buyers of sex or third parties face criminalization, forces sex workers into the shadows. “In reality, these laws target loved ones, family, landlords, drivers and other people providing care and service to sex workers,” Raven said in her statement. Meanwhile, the widespread use of Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, which treat all arrested sex workers as trafficking victims, continue to place sex workers in frameworks of criminalization and regularly offer up undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who haunt the court rooms.Join Our NewsletterOriginal reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you.I’m in

Full decriminalization will, of course, not offer economic justice and material safety for the vulnerable communities who turn to sex work for survival. It would, nonetheless, help reduce the violence of discriminatory policing — or the purported grounds for it — in their lives. With full decriminalization, law enforcement officers would no longer be able to use policing prostitution as a pretext for harassing trans women, raiding immigrants’ businesses, and discrediting sex workers who report abuse. Since the November 2018 election handed the New York Senate to the Democrats — while ushering in politicians like Salazar with progressive platforms — the notion that the state penal code could soon be adjusted to decriminalize sex work is no mere idealism.

“It depends what you consider soon,” said Jared Trujillo of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, another member of the DecrimNY steering committee. Trujillo, also a former sex worker, told The Intercept that legislation to repeal New York’s loitering for prostitution law, and legislation that would disallow using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution, could be passed in the next congressional session. “Full decriminalization could happen in a few years,” he said. Fellow DecrimNY members in Foley Square echoed his optimism. “It’s so close that we can taste it,” Gentili told the crowd.

The potential for decriminalization may have been ushered in by last year’s election, but it was built on the backs of sex workers struggling for their rights and their lives for decades. As Trujillo noted, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which inaugurated the gay rights revolution — and were started by trans sex workers. Anything but decriminalization is discrimination; it can’t come soon enough.

The potential for decriminalization may have been ushered in by last year’s election, but it was built on the backs of sex workers struggling for their rights and their lives for decades. As Trujillo noted, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which inaugurated the gay rights revolution — and were started by trans sex workers. Anything but decriminalization is discrimination; it can’t come soon enough.

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