Groundbreaking Bill Would Make New York The First State To Fully Decriminalize Prostitution

A picture of the capitol building in Albany.
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A groundbreaking bill being considered in New York would make it the first state in the country to fully decriminalize prostitution.

There has been a nationwide push among advocacy groups to decriminalize sex work and to offer protection for those who work in the industry, and it appears New York may be the first state to fully take that step. The New Republic reported on a bill that was drafted by a group of advocates and set to be introduced in the state Legislature, one that would remove criminal penalties for adults buying and selling sex and removing other laws that decriminalize the place of businesses for sex workers.

Advocates say the wide-ranging bill would offer greater protection to workers who traditionally have been among the most vulnerable.

“This is not just about decriminalizing workers or the absence of criminal codes. It’s about making sure people who work in the sex trades have access to making a living in the sex industry in a way that is not a crime,” said Audacia Ray, a member of the advocacy group DecrimNY.

Penalties would remain in place for trafficking and those who force minors into prostitution, as well as non-consensual acts. But the bill is being hailed by advocates as a major step forward and possibly one that could be replicated by other states.

It was not yet clear how much support there was among state lawmakers to pass the bill. While New York has been among the first states to take steps forward in a number of areas, including being among the first states to legalize gay marriage, the passage of these measures has often come with considerable wrangling and deal-making on the part of lawmakers.

While New York could be the first to fully decriminalize prostitution, other areas are now considering the same step. A bill was introduced in Washington, D.C., that would decriminalize prostitution as well. Advocates have pushed for other states to join in.

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The issue of greater protection for sex workers and decriminalization of prostitution has also come up in the early stages of the 2020 presidential election. As BuzzFeed News noted, four Democratic candidates have come out in support of decriminalizing sex work, and voters appear to be supportive as well. DecrimNY joined with the progressive think tank Data for Progress and YouGov to conduct a survey that found 56 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of all voters support the decriminalization of consensual sex work.