Roberts Law Group, PLLC
North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys
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Will New York be the first state to legalize prostitution?

Now that legalized marijuana is slowly but surely marching toward nationwide acceptance, the next potential subject for decriminalization is even more controversial: prostitution.

New York lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would legalize the sex trade across the state. It's the most sweeping attempt to date at legitimizing the sex trade, according to the New York Times. And, predictably, it has ignited heated debate from both sides.

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What the bill would accomplish

Currently, New York criminalizes a slew of prostitution-related behavior: Prostitution itself. Solicitation. Pimping and promoting. Even loitering for purposes of prostitution.

The new legislation would decriminalize most aspects of the sex trade, making it legal for consenting adults to buy and sell sexual services. It would still protect minors, prohibit human trafficking and criminalize coercive or violent behaviors.

The bill would regulate places of prostitution to make them safer. It would also provide grounds for expungement of prostitution-related criminal records.

Staking out sides

Those in support of the bill, including a coalition led by former sex workers, say the primary beneficiaries of the legalized sex trade would be sex workers. Criminalizing prostitution contributes to a dangerous and unregulated black market, fostering an environment ripe for exploitation, they argue. Sex workers often end up behind bars, and they're frequently afraid to report abuse or violence for fear they'll be arrested.

The bill, proponents argue, would give sex workers rights - not to mention access to housing, education and other lines of work. Far too many end up stuck in the lifestyle because of the stigma associated with sex work and the criminal records that drag them down.

Opponents, however, point out the long-term physical and psychological harm that results from prostitution. The sex industry is predatory by nature, they argue. Legalizing it would only benefit pimps and promoters. New York would become a mecca for prostitution, resulting in a boom of brothels and attracting vulnerable workers driven by desperate circumstances to an inherently exploitative industry.

A middle ground?

Despite these highly polarized views, there might be a middle ground. Some lawmakers have advocated for the "Nordic model" toward prostitution, which still criminalizes the sex industry but focuses law enforcement efforts on pimps, promoters and customers, not the sex workers themselves.

In any event, at this point, the measure is largely symbolic. With the legislature adjourning shortly, the bill almost certainly won't reach a vote anytime soon.

Still, it's monumental in laying the groundwork for future legislation - not to mention sparking conversation on a public policy issue of national importance.

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