[Note: I am not a lawyer, law student, or legal scholar.]
A new bill aimed at the decriminalization of Sex Work in the state of New York was recently introduced in the New York State Senate. This bill (S6419) has been met with excitement by the Consensual Transactional Sex community. This excitement is to be expected, but what does this bill actually say and is there any chance of it ever becoming law?
Legalization or Decriminalization?
So what does this law do? News articles and online posts have used the terms “legalization” and “decriminalization” to describe the proposed legislation. These two terms are not really interchangeable. So which does S6419 do?
This bill expressly DECRIMINALIZES consensual Sex Work.
That is hugely important. Legalization is NOT the best solution for our community. Legalization is what they have in Nevada. And that state places a lot of restrictions on Sex Work. The New York bill will eliminate nearly all criminal law related to compensated sexual acts between consenting adults. This is freedom for Sex Workers and Clients.
This law does not create restrictions on prostitution. This is a significant departure from other laws that have been proposed or enacted in other countries. Those laws, such as the so called “Nordic model” of laws, do not actually decriminalized consensual sex acts, but impose new types of restrictions on Sex Work that do not serve Sex Workers, Clients, or society.
What Is Still Illegal?
Under the proposed law most prostitution offenses are eliminated from the law. But not all. And that is GOOD NEWS. Why?
Because this new law makes a clear distinction between CONSENSUAL Transactional Sex and Non-consensual sex. It also continues to directly provide legal protection for minors by making sure that the exploitation of children is illegal. It also makes a clear distinction between Sex Work and sex trafficking. Sex Work is legal, sex trafficking remains a crime.
What will this do? It will make it possible for Sex Workers to be free, while actually giving more resources to Law Enforcement to pursue the true criminals.
It also will make it much easier for victims of trafficking, abuse, violence, forced prostitution, and coercion to report these crimes to the police and get free of it. This will give freedom to those in the sex trade who have been forced into it against their will.
Another significant thing that remains illegal is participating in prostitution within a school zone. I think we can all get behind the idea that Sex Workers shouldn’t be seeing clients on school property.
S6419 acknowledges that Sex Workers need protections. This law provides the ability for Sex Workers (and Clients) to report crimes committed against them without any fear of prosecution.
It will actually protect a Sex Workers ability to work within the sex trade, and their ability to get out of Sex Work without a legal penalty.
A Clean Slate
A very important aspect of this proposed law is that it will give many Sex Workers (and their Clients) a chance at a clean slate. A legal “do-over” if you will. Because this law makes provision for the voiding of past convictions related to prostitution. The law makes specific provisions for clearing criminal records related to past crimes that will no longer be illegal. This means that any Sex Worker who has a record for basic prostitution offenses in New York State (and certain related offenses) can have them expunged from their records.
This is a great provision. Not only does it help those who wish to be Sex Workers, but it also helps those who want out of the business.
It will help prevent discrimination in hiring for more “traditional” employment, since there would be no criminal record involved anymore. It will help with securing housing. It will also help to prevent landlords from evicting tenants who are Sex Workers or employers from firing people who are Sex Workers. This is wonderful.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, there is one big piece of bad news.
Chances are, this law is not going to actually pass any time soon. The New York State Legislature is set to adjourn soon and will probably not vote on this bill. It is also unclear if there is enough legislative support to get it passed. The Governor has also not commented in any way about his willingness or unwillingness to sign such a bill into law.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s dead. It means there is a chance to lobby for this legislation.
New York, especially New York City, has a very large number of Sex Workers, Clients, and advocates. Now is the time for them to aggressively lobby for the passage of this legislation. Because if they can get it passed in New York, there is a significant chance to get similar laws passed in many other states. Especially the “liberal” states. Sure, there is no way that places like Alabama, Missouri, or other “conservative” states will passs bills like this. But California? Maybe. And others could follow suite.
It may just be possible that freedom for Sex Workers is on the horizon. It may still take a little while to get there, but this proposed law makes it clear that the journey has truly begun.
[Text of New York Senate Bill S6419: Full Text of Bill]