National Debate Over Whether to Legalize Prostitution in New York
Jun 17, 2019 | By: Peggy Wrightsman for Capture Humanity
The state of New York recently proposed a bill that would legalize prostitution by eliminating several laws that punish people who buy, sell, and promote sex. Seven New York legislators currently support the bill, whichwould operate under the premise that “Trying to stop sex work between consenting adults should not be the business of the criminal justice system. It has not worked for a couple of thousand years.”
Opponent of the New York State legalization to legalize prostitution, Shandra Woworuntu looking up the stairwell to an illegal sex brothel in Flushing, Queens on June 13, 2019. Shandra was a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and survivor of sex trafficking and domestic violence. She was born in Indonesia, and in 2001 she travelled to the USA expecting a job in the hospitality industry but was instead forced to work in the sex industry under threat and violence. She eventually escaped her captors and helped convict her traffickers.
The state claims that it would continue to uphold laws involving human trafficking, rape, assault, battery, and sexual harassment, as well as minors being coerced into the sex industry. It would slash about a dozen other laws, including selling sex for money, buying sex, promoting prostitution, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. Supporters of the bill argue that it would protect people working in the sex industry. But former sextrade survivors like Rebekah Charleston, 37, who says she was victimized “everywhere from New York strip clubs to Nevada’s legal brothels,” insist that legalization only encourages trafficking.
An employment and matchmaking agency, Flushing, Queens on June 13, 2019.
“A lot of people are under the misconception that just because it’s legal [in Nevada], then it’s safe and it’s clean and that all the people there are consenting — and that’s just not the truth,” saysCharleston, who appears in a blistering new anti-trafficking video put out by opponents of legalization and unveiled at the World Without Exploitation Conference in Washington, DC last month. “I think a lot of people have this happy hooker mindset like, ‘Oh well, she looks happy and she’s an adult, so she should be able to do what she wants,’ when that’s just not reality,” she says. “The realities of prostitution and sex trafficking are horrific.
Businesses on Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, Queens where a woman attempted to escape prostitution jumped from a 2nd floor window to her death in 2016. The area is heavily policed for prostitution along Roosevelt Avenue.
Backers of the proposed New York bill said they believe that legalization would reduce sex trafficking and protect the women who rely on the industry to make a living. They emphasize that any bill wouldn’t extend protections to pimps or sex traffickers. But Charleston, who was often sent by her pimp to city strip clubs to find buyers doesn’t believe that Nevada shouldserve as a national blueprint. Nevada has a 63 percent higher rate of illegal sex-trade activity than any other state in the country and ranks in the top 10 for trafficked and exploited youth, according to the anti-trafficking campaign. Melissa Holland is the co-founder and executive director of Awaken, a non-profit raising awareness about human trafficking in Nevada. She says that the main goal of the state’slegalization of prostitution was to make selling sex safer for the workers and the buyers. In reality, though, it’s driven the illegal market and changed the state’s culture. Sexual exploitation is so normalized in Nevada, she says, that brothel workers are invited to schools for career day. “That’s what happens when it’s framed like a job like any other,” Holland said. “These are the real implications and how it bleeds into your culture.” And that’s what legislators in New York must seriously consider."