Advocates say regulating prostitution would destigmatize sex workers and encourage those engaged in it against their will to seek help without fear of arrest. Those against it say the entire industry is inherently dangerous.
A push to decriminalize sex work in New York has gained support from more Democrats as well as current and former sex workers themselves.
For Senator Jessica Ramos, the case to decriminalize sex work in New York was made by the workers themselves.
“When a group of sex workers and former sex workers came to visit me in my office, to educate me with their stories, to educate me about what can be done to ensure we're destigmatizing the sex trade, to be sure we're decriminalizing the sex trade, I said yes,” said Ramos.
At a rally on Tuesday at the state Capitol, lawmakers said the decriminalization push was to protect those forcefully drafted into the sex trade as well as those who are working in it willingly.
“We're criminalizing the wrong group of people and making victims and we're making who are willingly doing sex work the criminals when it reality shouldn't be them,” said Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou.
Assemblyman Richard Gottfried compared the criminalization of sex to prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s by creating more crime in the process.
“To me the biggest issue is the damage done to so many lives by the criminalization of sex work and the violence and intimidation and force that comes with it being an entirely illegal business,” said Gottfried.
Lawmakers are not seeking to legalize sex work or prostitution, like setting up a regulatory system and taxing it. Instead, they no longer want sex workers to be prosecuted or charged with prostitution and other sex-work related crimes.
Nevertheless, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis believes the proposal misses the point.
“We already have a large issue with human trafficking and women being exploited and used as sex slaves,” said Malliotakis. “We need to stop that with law enforcement. “
For now a decriminalization bill is yet to be introduced. Some lawmakers are also discussing measures that would expunge records of prostitution-related convictions.