PRESS STATEMENT: Our response to Speaker Corey Johnson's remarks on the sex trades today
Updated: May 17, 2019
CONTACT: Nina Luo, VOCAL-NY email@example.com or 636-288-8279
Audacia Ray, New York City Anti-Violence Project firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-334-8618
People in the Sex Trades Need Services and Decriminalization
LGBTQ and criminal justice reform groups welcome City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s support for repealing the “Walking While Trans ban” and funding services for sex workers but urge the Speaker to reconsider his position on decriminalization.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MAY 16, 2019:
Today, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced his support for repealing the criminalization of loitering for the purpose of prostitution (S2253 Hoylman/A654 Paulin) and committed to funding a support services center for people in the sex trades. City investments in support services for people in the trades are critical - and until now they have been both underfunded and tied to arrest and court involvement. When people who are in the sex trades by choice, circumstance, or coercion have access to non-stigmatizing, voluntary, trauma-informed, harm reduction services that are peer-based and respect their bodily autonomy, they are more able to access health, safety, and economic security for themselves and their families. We look forward to working with the Speaker to ensure that people in the sex trades are meaningfully included in shaping this service center and their expertise is centered in delivering support services. People in the sex trades know what we need and our expertise is invaluable to ensuring the success of this major undertaking.
However, to make these investments in services truly count, we need to ensure that people in the sex trades, people profiled as trading sex, as well as people who patronize sex workers are not criminalized and are able to access or benefit from reforms. In response to a reporter’s question, the Speaker said “I don’t support the Decrim NY proposal,” expressing support for the Nordic Model, which seeks to end the sex industry by criminalizing clients of sex workers and anyone who lives with, works with, or provides services to sex workers, including drivers, landlords, roommates, family and loved ones. By supporting the Nordic Model, the Speaker is positioning the city to further marginalize the very same communities the service centers will benefit. Criminalizing clients of sex workers and sex workers’ peer networks will lead to further housing instability, police surveillance and brutality. In addition, it will create more barriers to life-saving HIV/AIDS-prevention and gender-affirming health care, since having a criminal record is one of the primary ways in which people are hindered from accessing housing and other services.
The Nordic Model has the following consequences:
1. Like other policing practices, arrests of the clients of sex workers or people profiled as such, disproportionately impact people of color. According to data from New York’s Department of Criminal Justice Services, 73% of the 1,085 patronizing prostitution arrests in 2018 were Black or Latinx men. This is particularly important for immigrant communities, where patronizing prostitution is a deportable offense and arrests expose migrant workers to ICE and other immigration consequences. Decriminalizing sex work and patronizing sex workers is a racial justice issue.
2. Because of widespread employment discrimination and high rates of youth homelessness, LGBTQ communities disproportionately engage in sex work for survival. A recent report by The New York City Anti-Violence Project found 22% of trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC) survey respondents are unemployed, which is 5x higher than the NYC unemployment rate. TGNC New Yorkers surveyed are both more likely to have a BA than the average New Yorker and much more likely to live in poverty. As a result, many TGNC people engage in sex work to survive. A survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found 40% of Black trans people self-report having engaged in the sex trades. LGBTQ youth in New York also trade sex at 7-8x the rate of their cisgender, heterosexual peers. By advocating for the Nordic Model, the Speaker is advocating for an end to what is, for many of us, our only means of economic survival.
3. Police use prostitution and patronizing prostitution arrests to criminalize sexual behavior within LGBTQ communities, even when it’s not sex work. Gay men in particular have been targeted by police for both prostitution and patronizing a person for prostitution. In 2014 Robert Pinter, a gay man falsely arrested for patronizing a prostitute, received a $450,000 settlement from NYC. “Patronizing a prostitute” is a charge used to police, harass, and arrest people for sexual behaviors that defy heterosexual norms of morality. As we approach the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, this is a reminder of the continuation of state-sanctioned violence enacted on queer bodies.
We’ve welcomed support from other progressive electeds in listening to our communities. Many of our organizations have worked closely with the Speaker on issues of LGBTQ liberation, housing, harm reduction, criminal justice, HIV/AIDS prevention, and more. It is important that the Speaker not be complicit in criminalization on this issue and listen to the LGBTQ, immigrant, and communities of color most impacted by the criminalization of people in the sex trades.
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys
Brooklyn Defenders Services
Make the Road New York
The New York City Anti-Violence Project
The Sex Workers Project at The Urban Justice Center