Could Prostitution Be the Next Vice to Be Decriminalized?

Ms. Mathieson and others who work with women in the sex trade say that supporters of decriminalization gloss over a raft of gruesome details about the profession, including rape, physical abuse by clients and pimps, commonplace drug use and an often ravaging physical toll of multiple sex partners, sometimes in the span of a few hours.

“They have accepted a kind of myth about the sex industry of the happy hooker and victimless crimes,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, the head of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York, adding, “It’s a fantasy perpetuated and accepted by the media.”

While decriminalization is unlikely to pass in New York this year, a pair of bills dealing with elements of prostitution appear to have a greater chance of passing, including one that would vacate nonprostitution-related crimes, like drug charges, from the records of victims of sex trafficking.

It recently advanced out of a Senate committee. A second bill would repeal loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute, a law that advocates say leads to unfair arrests of people — often transgender — for wearing skirts, carrying condoms or even “walking while trans.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has offered no opinion of those bills or of decriminalization, saying only that he would review such proposals.

The United States trails many other developed countries in considering the effects of decriminalizing prostitution, which is legal in such European countries as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and in other parts of the world.

The results of such legalization are mixed: In New Zealand, for example, which legalized prostitution in 2003, a 2012 study found that “the vast majority of people involved in the sex industry are better off” with legalized conditions. But the report also added that “many sex workers were still vulnerable to ‘exploitative employment conditions’” and that some sex workers were being forced to take clients “against their will.”


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