The movement to fully decriminalize sex work in New York has been met with resistance from a pair of state legislators who are introducing a separate bill that would only gut penalties for sex workers — not their clients or those facilitating their work — prompting anger from advocates who have adamantly argued that partial decriminalization still hurts sex workers.
According to the Daily News and the Queens Eagle, State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright of Brooklyn are proposing a bill mirroring a form of decriminalization known as the Nordic Model or Equality Model. The legislative effort comes months after Gay City News reported that European officials discussed the Nordic Model with Krueger and Wright during a meeting in New York.
A broad coalition of advocates associated with DecrimNY, including current and former transgender sex workers of color, have blasted the Nordic Model as a dangerous middle-ground set up under which sex workers would still get swept up in the criminal justice system along with buyers and people who facilitate the sex work. Numerous advocacy groups, including Legal Aid Attorneys, DecrimNY, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Make the Road New York, the New York City Anti-Violence Project, VOCAL-NY, and WOMANKIND, were critical of out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson earlier this year when he voiced support for the Nordic Model.
A survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed that 40 percent of Black trans women report engaging in the sex trade.
State Senators Julia Salazar of Brooklyn, Jessica Ramos of Queens, and Robert Jackson of Manhattan are sponsors of the full decriminalization bill in the upper chamber, while its Assembly backers include Richard Gottfried, Dan Quart, and Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan and Ron Kim and Catalina Cruz of Queens.
Salazar was among those quick to push back against the Krueger-Wright approach, stating in a tweet that she was “disappointed” to see the report in the Daily News describing a “new path” ending criminal penalties on sex workers.
“If you want to know what sex worker advocates want, answer the calls of the many sex workers and trafficking survivors leading @DecrimNY,” Salazar wrote.
The Daily News story — which noted that the Nordic Model bill has the support of celebrities like Ashley Judd, Seth Meyers, and his wife, Alexi Ashe — quoted Wright as saying, “For too long we’ve been having the wrong conversation about sex work as it relates to human trafficking. As many studies have pointed out, upwards of 90 percent of sex workers are victims of human trafficking.”
Kim took to Twitter to respond to Wright’s statement.
“Wrong,” he wrote. “There’s no data that shows 90% of SWers are trafficked. The ‘saviors’ abuse trafficking narrative to ‘rescue’ SWers while receiving lucrative govt funding & allowing unchecked 24/7 surveillance.”
DecrimNY advocates and others have argued that full decriminalization would reduce the stigma facing sex workers and the risk of them being trafficked by allowing them greater autonomy and control of their work.
Krueger and Wright did not immediately respond to Gay City News’ questions about reports of their proposed legislation, but Krueger told the Queens Eagle that she believes “it’s really important that New York State doesn’t end up the brothel capital of America.”
Two major sex work advocacy groups, DecrimNY and Red Canary Song, had strong words for those backing the partial decriminalization bill.
“The new proposed legislation referred to as the ‘Equality Model’ conflates sex work with sex trafficking, using the logic of broken windows policing to address trafficking by targeting sex workers,” DecrimNY said in a written statement. “We reject the tokenization of a few survivors and the amplifying of white celebrities’ opinions to silence the voices of many people with lived experience, and we urge legislators to support policy solutions that create real safety for people who trade sex by choice, circumstance, or coercion.”
Red Canary Song, which consists of Asian and migrant sex workers, said in a tweet that partial decriminalization is “not the ‘Equality Model or ‘Nordic Model.’”
“Let’s call it what it is from now on,” the group wrote. “It’s the Deportation Model, the Sex Worker Eviction Model. Limousine Liberals colonizing our language to violate us.”
State legislators in the most recent session that ended in June were unable to pass even the first step toward ending the criminalization of sex work — a repeal of the “loitering for the purposes of prostitution” law, commonly referred to as a “walking while trans” prohibition due to how frequently transgender women are targeted under that measure. Repeal advocates are preparing to again push that effort in the legislative session beginning in Junuary. That bill’s sponsors include out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, who recently reiterated his determination at a November rally.
Holyman had called for the “decriminalizing and destigmatizing” of “the sex trade” in a written statement to Gay City News in February. That broad reference to decriminalizing “the sex trade” indicated his support for decriminalizing sex work for workers, buyers, and facilitators, though he is not a sponsor of the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act. He did not immediately respond to Gay City News’ requests for comment regarding his stance on Krueger and Wright’s proposal.