“As a former sex worker, I have suffered so much for the criminalization of the work I had to do to survive,” Cecilia Gentili told a crowd gathered at New York City’s Foley Square in early March. Today, Gentili is an HIV activist, but when she first immigrated to America from Argentina, she worked in the sex industry.

Behind her in the square were Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, two recently-elected New York state senators, who plan to introduce a bill that would decriminalize sex work. Criminalization “does not address why people trade sex, because most people trade sex out of economic need,” the pair wrote in a recent New York Daily News op-ed, adding that it encourages abuses by law enforcement, and makes vulnerable populations more susceptible to violence and exploitation.

If it passes, New York would be the first state in America to completely decriminalize sex work. (Nevada has partially legalized it.) But it won’t be an easy ride for DecrimNY, a coalition of sex workers and non-profits campaigning to both destigmatize and decriminalize the trade in New York. A week after the pro-decriminalization rally, a different group of demonstrators assembled at New York’s City Hall. “Everyone agrees it’s time to stop arresting sex workers,” Sonia Ossorio, the president of New York City’s National Organization for Women, told those gathered. “But we don’t agree that buyers and pimps should get free reign.”

 

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Sex Workers Say Decriminalization Makes Them Safer. It’s Time to Listen to Them by Stephanie Thomson

March 29th, 2019