By SÍLE MOLONEY
Candidate for New York City Comptroller, Zach Iscol, voiced his support, on Tuesday, April 6, for the passage of New York State Senate Bill S6040, the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act.
Among other things, the bill would decriminalize people in prostitution, mandate that they receive access to necessary social services, strengthen laws against sex trafficking, and advance criminal justice reform. This approach is known in some circles as partial decriminalization of the sex trade or the equality model.
Advocates for the model say it is a survivor-centered approach, where the focus is on harm reduction and lifting people out of the sex trade, based on a recognition that the majority of people are not there by choice. Nonprofits who work with survivors say trans women, for example, are often excluded from traditional forms of employment, because of stigma, leaving them with few other options than survival sex.
“Passing the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act is the best way that the State can help vulnerable women, girls and trans individuals, while preventing human trafficking,” Iscol said. “It builds on what the City has done: stopping arrests of sex workers, and repealing the loitering for the purpose of prostitution law.”
Iscol’s views on the bill are supported by the nonprofit, Rights4Girls, a leading nonprofit on safety and justice for young women and girls. The group recently made the documentary, Nameless, which discusses the different ways in which people fall prey to sex trafficking, particularly from a young age.
Iscol also called for increased funding for comprehensive services at the New York City level, including mental health care, housing, and related social services for sex trafficked individuals.
“As someone who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and spent nearly a decade running a national mental health non-profit, I know how hard it is to come back from trauma. We have to do everything we can on the city level to provide resources for those caught in the sex trade.”
At the same time, Iscol opposes NY State Senate Bill S6419, a bill which, if passed, would fully decriminalize all elements of the sex trade including pimping, sex buying, and sex work. Iscol said passing Bill S6419 would significantly increase the sex trafficking of vulnerable communities and would risk making New York a global center of the sex trade.
“We know allowing sex buying, pimps, and sex tourism is the wrong approach: the places that have done it are now trying to walk it back, as it’s led to a dramatic increase in [sex] trafficking among the most vulnerable communities,” he said. “If we were to pass S6419, we’d have to figure out where the brothels would be, which communities would become red light districts. That’s not something we want for New York City.”
The German public service broadcaster, DW, broadcast a documentary last month which shows what life is like for those working in the sex trade in the country, following years of full decriminalization.
Iscol added, “Decriminalizing sex buyers and pimps would dramatically increase the demand that leads to sex trafficking, which is the wrong approach for New York and will disproportionately hurt the undocumented, people of color, and trans individuals.”
Meanwhile, those who advocate for bill S6419 (full decriminalization) argue that S6040 (partial decriminalization) would push the sex trade underground, a claim that has been refuted by advocates of bill S6419.
Norwood News previously reported on the work being done by Freedom Youth NYC in the Bronx and across the City to curb the spread of sex trafficking.
According to a 2020 article by Forbes, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the global human trafficking industry (including sex trafficking) generates $150 billion in profits annually. Meanwhile, a 2017 article by Atlanta Black Star wrote that according to the FBI, 40 percent of victims of sex trafficking are African-American.
Iscol is a former marine, founder and CEO of Hire Purpose, a technology start-up that provides personalized career guidance, job market analysis, industry networking, and job matching to veterans, military service members and their spouses, and is executive director of Headstrong Project, a non-profit partnered with Weill Cornell Medical Center that funds and develops comprehensive mental healthcare programs to treat Iraq and Afghanistan veterans free of cost, stigma, and bureaucracy. He is one of 14 candidates running for City Comptroller, having dropped out of the New York City mayoral race in January.
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