In the modern era, most sex workers who work on the street are engaged in sex work out of desperate need. They face widespread physical and sexual violence, especially from the police. For these women, men, and children, the criminal justice system is merely a “revolving door” that hinders rather than helps their chances of stopping sex work. More convictions only make it harder for sex workers to transition out of sex work into the mainstream economy, because they are rejected from jobs, denied work authorization, can even be evicted from their homes for these convictions.
But a bill now on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk would increase the penalty for vulnerable street-based sex workers.
The bill increases prostitution to a Class A Misdemeanor when it occurs on or adjacent to school grounds. The legislation was inspired by worries about sex work occurring too close to a school in West Farms, yet many community members in that very neighborhood have expressed concerns that such punitive measures will not address the root causes of the problem – addiction, exploitation and poverty – but will in fact, result in a cycle of recidivism that could have been prevented by a less punitive approach.
West Farms is a community that has seen the worst of the economic crisis, including cuts to social programs, increasing rates of incarceration, entrenched poverty, failing schools, and homelessness. Raising prostitution one offense level will not protect children nor the victims of poverty.
Tell Gov. Cuomo to veto this bill and look for real solutions to the economic problems facing our communities.