De Blasio To Change NYC Sex Work Policy

September 2, 2020

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has changed his stance on sex work, moving away from full criminalization and toward support of the Entrapment Model, according to a statement he made in response to questions about the arrest and prosecution of Layleen Polanco. De Blasio announced he does not believe that sex workers should ever be arrested but that “the people who are organizing and profiting from that sex work should be.”

The Entrapment Model — often referred to as “End Demand” or the “Nordic Model” — is a form of policing in which the sale of commercial sex is not criminalized, but purchasing sex still is. While many claim that the Entrapment Model supports sex workers, where and when it has been implemented, violence against sex workers remains.

Polanco was a 27-year-old transgender woman sent to Rikers Island on prostitution and drug possession charges last year. She died from seizure complications while in solitary confinement. Polanco’s death brought attention to much of the violence and abuse faced by sex workers, particularly transgender sex workers of color, in NY State and across the country.

The mayor’s statement is a step in the right direction. Still, he fails to differentiate between criminals who exploit and abuse sex workers, and nonviolent clients and non-abusive third parties whom sex workers often work with or hire for protection. De Blasio ignores the reality that people often engage in sex work by choice.

Last year, the mayor came out staunchly against the decriminalization of sex work. Around the same time, Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr. and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez committed to reducing the amount of prostitution-related charges prosecuted, even as “policing of sex work continues.” NY sex worker advocates disagree with the district attorneys’ claims that they support partial decriminalization by offering community-based services to sex worker defendants. Charges are dismissed only if services mandated by the prosecution are completed.

“It is long past time that we dispel the myth that people arrested on prostitution charges, nearly all of whom are Black, Latinx, and Asian transgender and cisgender women are “rescued” by police officers and benefit from being arrested and prosecuted or placed into court-ordered diversion programs,” said Jillian Modzeleski in a statement on behalf of Brooklyn Defender Services around the mayor’s comments. “At the same time we must dispel other myths that NYPD focuses on traffickers, which is belied by arrest data, and that criminalization keeps people safe.” Modzeleski confirmed that the mayor appears to support the Nordic Model, which contributes to the stigmatization and criminalization of many parts of sex work, putting workers themselves at risk.

“I give the DA offices a lot of credit in trying to reduce the harm for prosecuting these offenses, but prosecuting these offenses is still prosecuting them. It is tying programs and services and a better disposition to a court process. That is not decriminalization,” Kate Mogulescu, an assistant professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School and a fellow member of the New York Anti-Trafficking Network with DSW, told the NY Daily News.

De Blasio concluded his statement saying that the changes to the way NYC polices sex work “need to deepen.” DSW hopes that the mayor will follow through on his promise to stop the arrests of those who do sex work in earnest and commit to significant change.

Last year, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was “not comfortable with” the idea of decriminalizing sex work, although city prosecutors claimed it was already happening. (Photo: Barry Williams/NY Daily News)

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez says he “believes in decriminalization,” though his office’s actions do not fully reflect that position. (Photo: Brooklyn Eagle)

Layleen Polanco (left) pictured with her sister, Melania Brown, shortly before Polanco’s arrest in 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of Melania Brown/NBC News)

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