Transgender advocates in New York are celebrating after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced it will no longer prosecute sex workers.
“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said Wednesday in a statement.
The DA also announced approximately 6,000 prostitution-related open cases will be dismissed, including 900 cases dating back to the 1970s.
Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, in the statement called the decision “one of the most significant steps taken Nationally in the effort to stop criminalizing sex work.”
“This resolute action to actively decriminalize sex workers is the kind of change our community has been hoping for, advocating for, for decades,” Gentili said.
Trans people — especially trans women of color — are more likely to engage in sex work: The 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey found nearly 11 percent of transgender Americans reported having participated in the sex trade, including almost 40 percent of Black respondents and 33 percent of Latinos.
“For many transgender people, the sex trade can offer greater autonomy and financial stability compared to more traditional workplaces, with few barriers to entry,” the report read. “However, economic insecurity and material deprivation can increase one’s vulnerability to harm and decrease the ability to make self-determined choices.”
Many turned to it after facing rejection, discrimination and harassment in the traditional workforce.
Of the trans sex workers surveyed, almost 70 percent reported losing out on a promotion, being fired or facing other negative workplace outcomes as a result of their gender identity. Those who lost a job due to anti-trans discrimination were nearly three times as likely to engage in the sex trade, the survey found.
Vance described the decision to end prosecutions as an outgrowth of the office’s efforts to connect individuals arrested for prostitution with social services rather than pursue criminal charges.
“Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and support solely on a voluntary basis,” he said in the statement.
Vance called the backlog of cases, many going back decades, “a relic from a different New York, and a very real burden for the person who carries the conviction or bench warrant.”
The news comes just months after the New York Legislature repealed a law prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution that critics say was disproportionately enforced against transgender women of color.
More than 5,000 of the cases dismissed this week were related to that statute, nicknamed the “walking while trans” ban.
“When you are an undocumented trans sex worker, having an arrest on your record can impact your efforts at immigration,” said Bianey Garcia, an advocate with the grassroots social justice group Make the Road New York. “It can hurt your chances at getting a job or a place to live.”
Garcia, a former sex worker, said the district attorney’s announcement “is proof the organizing we’re doing, the speaking out — it’s working.”
Vance’s office will continue to prosecute other crimes related to prostitution, including sex trafficking, patronizing sex workers and promoting prostitution, The New York Times reported.