STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute cases against sex-workers, while criminal cases against sex traffickers, pimps and those who pay for the service will continue.
The shift in policy is part of a growing movement across the U.S. to reform the way sex-for-money is policed.
“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: Criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” Vance said in a statement.
POLICING THE SEX TRADE ON S.I.
Street prostitution is rare on Staten Island, though several cases involving alleged massage parlors and sex-trafficking have been pursued by law enforcement agencies in recent weeks.
A recent online search by the Advance/SILive.com found multiple websites soliciting massage parlors throughout the city, and dozens of sex-worker profiles with descriptions of their gender, race and physical build.
When asked about the historic policy shift in Manhattan, and efforts at the state level to decriminalize the act in some form, District Attorney Michael E. McMahon said “it must be done in a comprehensive and thoughtful manner.”
He said there has to be a “focus on providing more resources to survivors while still permitting law enforcement to do its job and hold accountable those who exploit others for profit.”
“Ensuring sex traffickers, massage parlor operators, and pimps are fully prosecuted and held accountable for the pain and suffering they cause remains crucial to protecting victims of abuse and keeping Staten Islanders safe.”
There have already been steps citywide to help sex workers obtain the necessary resources to make an escape from the profession, with the possibility of having the charges dismissed in the city’s special Human Trafficking Intervention Court.
Prostitution cases in the U.S. have uncovered a wide range of circumstances in how women and men become involved in the industry.
- Some are brought to the country by a trafficker on false promises of a better life, then ushered and/or forced into sex work without a passport, other financial means to survive nor any family for support.
- Some are homeless at a young age due to issues at home with drugs and/or abuse, and promised a place to stay in exchange for sex work.
- Less often, they come from more stable and/or middle class backgrounds, seeking an alternative lifestyle and what can be a lucrative career.
S.I. LAWMAKER WEIGHS IN
Vance asked a judge Wednesday morning to throw out 914 prostitution and unlicensed-massage cases, in addition to 5,080 cases involving charges of loitering for the purposes of prostitution — many of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.
Cases involving loitering for the purposes of prostitution are what activist groups and some legal experts referred to as the “walking while trans” law, arguing cops used it to harass and arrest law-abiding trans people.
In February, state legislators repealed the law, and McMahon dismissed all cases and warrants related specifically to the law on Staten Island.
Meanwhile, a bill introduced recently by state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) would decriminalize prostitution for the person performing the work, while still holding clients, traffickers and pimps accountable.
Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R-East Shore) said he would vote the bill down.
“If sex workers are not charged by law enforcement, it will embolden the traffickers to continue their operations,” said Tannousis, a former prosecutor on Staten Island. “This bill would tie the hands for our law enforcement and will diminish our quality of life.”
CALLS TO END VICE UNIT
In a recent, joint-letter to top government officials across New York, members of the Assembly, state Senate and City Council called for an end to all undercover operations targeting prostitution, stating the city’s Vice Unit is notorious for civil rights violations including sexual misconduct, false arrests based on gender presentation and racial discrimination when determining neighborhoods where they investigate.
Over the past five years, the city reportedly has paid more than $1 million in taxpayer funds to settle false arrest lawsuits, the letter reads.
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