Jennifer Orellana, a transgender woman and former sex worker from Jackson Heights, asked six of the seven announced candidates for Queens District Attorney to clarify their position on the decriminalization of sex work — an increasingly mainstream topic — at a packed forum at CUNY Law School Tuesday night. Candidates’ responses ranged: from a willingness to consider the issue, to a call for limited prosecution and diversion alternatives, to full-throated support for full decriminalization.
“My question is,” Orellana said in Spanish, “what is your position on the full decriminalization of sex work, including refusing to give charges to prosecute sex workers, clients, family members, couples and landlords who provide services and care of sex workers?”
Orellana took the stage with two other trans Latina women, also former sex workers, from the nonprofit Make The Road New York. Their organization is a partner in Decrim NY, a new coalition of people who have engaged in sex work either by choice or under coercion. Full decriminalization, they say, is the only way to end disproportionate arrests of immigrant women, women of color, and trans women — arrests that can lead to deportation and fail to address basic needs like housing, healthcare and economic stability.
In 2018, more than half of the city’s prostitution-related loitering arrests took place in Queens. These are on the rise, though overall prostitution arrests have declined more than 60 percent citywide since 2012. State Sen. Jessica Ramos of Jackson Heights is one of several legislators supporting Decrim NY, and has announced plans for legislation that would decriminalize charges for the sale and solicitation of sex, plus protect third parties like sex workers’ family members, coworkers, roommates and landlords who advocates say can be swept up with existing promotion charges.
After the forum, Bianey Garcia of Make the Road, who shared the stage with Orellana, said she was most impressed by Cabán’s support for sex workers and full decriminalization.
“She is the only person that understands, the only person who is saying sex work is work, which is amazing,” Garcia said.