In a political climate in New York where vices like marijuana smoking and sports gambling are now legal, some lawmakers are pushing to decriminalize sex work in New York State.

Although it cannot possibly be prevented everywhere, sex for money is still illegal in New York.

But for sex workers, and their advocates in the legislature, it’s time to reconsider the criminalization of sex work which has tied up the criminal justice system for what many consider to be a victimless crime.

What You Need To Know

  • A bill in Albany would officially decriminalize sex work.

  • Decriminalization is different from legalization, which would require a regulatory framework

  • Advocates say decriminalization would make workers safer and allow them to access more legal and medical resources

“It takes away all the criminalized aspects of sex workers just doing their job,” said advocate SX Noir. “And what this will do is allow sex workers to have better access to housing, to medical resources and ultimately just living their lives.”

But decriminalization is different from legalizing prostitution, which has been done in other countries and in the state of Nevada.

In those cases, a regulatory framework was set up to protect workers by licensing sex workers and providing services like testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

“That lack of attendant regulatory oversight creating essentially an open market, or a free market for the type of conduct described in the bill, could present problems,” said Alex Wilson, associate counsel for the New York State Sheriff’s Association.

And while prosecutors have backed away from bringing cases against sex workers, police still respond to complaints in certain neighborhoods.

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, a Queens Democrat, is the sponsor of the bill.

“There are often raids on massage parlors. And places like my community, in Jackson Heights, I have Roosevelt Avenue and you often see the police still in the community targeting our sex workers,” Queens Democrat, Gonzalez-Rojas says. “It’s something which mostly undocumented. In my community, it’s a lot of undocumented transgender women.”

Advocates for sex workers say decriminalize will improve safety. Especially for those subject to abuse or assault.

“You have barriers to legal and criminal resources. So, if something were happen to you, let’s say you are a sex worker, and you got assaulted — you can’t go to the police and report that. You can’t go and have legal recourse because, as of right now, prostitution is illegal in New York City,” SX Noir says.

Critics compare decriminalizing sex work to what the legislature did with marijuana, which was legalizing it before there was an infrastructure to regulate it. That has led to more shops selling marijuana illegally, than those that can sell it legally.