BROOKLYN — Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez says he vacated 262 arrest warrants this week involving prostitution charges. He's moving to dismiss 850 more that date back to the 1970's.
Gonzalez is also calling on state lawmakers to expunge more than 25,000 prostitution-related convictions in Brooklyn dating to 1975.
What You Need To Know
- Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez vacated 262 prostitution-related arrest warrants this week, more could come
- Sex work advocates applaud the move, saying it makes industry safer
- Brooklyn DA also calling on state lawmakers to expunge more than 25, 000 prostitution-related convictions in Brooklyn dating to 1975
- Advocates hope Brooklyn decision is first step towards legalization of sex work in New York State
“DA Gonzalez recognized that criminalizing sex work drives sex work underground,” said Clement Lee, an attorney with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. It provides free legal representation to sex workers and survivors of human trafficking and sex crimes.
Advocates with the organization say the decision will make sex work safer.
“The criminalization of sex work is what makes it dangerous." said Mariah Grant, director of research, organizing and advocacy for the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center. "It makes it so that people can’t operate freely, that they can’t go to the police and feel comfortable expressing that they’ve seen abuse happening or experienced it themselves because they’d be fearful of arrest."
Grant says that although the sex work industry is diverse, people of color, who are undocumented or transgender are arrested at higher rates. She points to the death of Layleen Polanco as an example of why that should change. Polanco, a transgender woman, was taken into custody on sex-work charges. She could not afford the $500 in bail to get out, and died in Rikers Island after suffering a seizure.
“If that charge had been dismissed as this decision by Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez is going to do, she wouldn't have been held on those charges in Rikers where she was left to die,” said Grant.
Gonzalez's actions are part of a movement in New York to decriminalize sex work. But a bill to do just that, the STOP Violence in the Sex Trades Act, has not received enough support to become law. Still, advocates say it could happen one day. They cite the growing number of states that are legalizing recreational marijuana
“I think we look to the decriminalization of marijuana as a road map to how sex work can be decriminalized,” added Grant.
Until that happens, advocates hope the district attorneys in the other boroughs follow the Brooklyn DA's lead and push state lawmakers to re-think their stance on sex work.