May 10, 2022
Decriminalize Sex Work (DSW) — as part of ImmunityNY, a coalition of organizations dedicated to reducing harm and increasing safety by passing S.2233-A (Sepulveda)/A.255-A (Gottfried) — organized and participated in a day of meetings with press and legislators in Albany to encourage passage of this common sense legislation. It is good public health and criminal justice policy to allow consensual adult sex workers and survivors of human trafficking who are victims or witnesses of crime to report their experiences to law enforcement and healthcare providers without fear of prosecution for prostitution. Immunity laws benefit all communities by allowing law enforcement to better detect criminal activity.
This vital legislation would encourage sex workers and trafficking survivors who are crime victims and witnesses to report their experiences to law enforcement, receive medical care, and seek help. People involved in commercial sexual activity, whether by choice or because they are being trafficked, are often targeted by predators who know they are unlikely to report victimization or seek medical attention for fear of their own arrest. When abusers are not reported to law enforcement, they are able to continue their acts of violence and exploitation with impunity. “Because of the legal jeopardy they would be placed in, sex workers often do not report crimes when they are targeted for violence. This bill protects a victim or witness to a crime from prosecution for prostitution when seeking help, health care, or assisting in any investigation regardless if it results in a conviction. Similar to the ‘Good Samaritan’ laws of 2011, this bill protects people seeking assistance or seeking to simply do what’s right,” said Senate bill sponsor Senator Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx).
States across the country are increasingly adopting laws that grant some form of criminal legal immunity from prosecution for prostitution to people who report crimes – including California, Colorado, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, Utah, and Washington, where an immunity bill was signed into law by the governor in early May 2022. “Immunity legislation is gaining popularity across the country with bipartisan support and collaborative efforts between activists, survivors, legislators, and law enforcement, who are all in agreement that these policies are crucial in advancing public health and safety. Ensuring that perpetrators of violence cannot repeatedly exploit their victims’ vulnerability and allowing survivors of violence to seek help is common sense public policy, which is why immunity laws are increasingly common in other states,” said Rebecca Cleary, DSW staff attorney.
“The immunity bill is necessary to implement a framework of protection for sex workers who are victims of horrific crimes. Passing the immunity bill means freeing sex workers from institutional harm and the negative consequences created to enslave sex workers by traffickers who have become masterminds of the criminal justice system. Only a failed system won’t allow victims to tell their stories,” said Dawn Rowe, president and CEO of Girl Vow.
“Too often sex workers are afraid to report violent crimes committed against themselves or others, or even to seek health care for their injuries, because contact with police means likelihood of arrest,” said Assembly bill sponsor Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan). “Our laws create an inherently criminalized environment in which sex workers are targeted for violence. This would be an important step toward changing the dynamic between police and sex workers. It is similar to the ‘Good Samaritan’ law which protects people who seek help when someone suffers a drug overdose. All New Yorkers deserve safety from violence, and I hope we can advance this important bill.” Laura Mullen, who is a survivor and the co-founder of the Survivor Advisory Board and an anti-trafficking service advocate at ECLI-VIBES, shared, “Where I come from, criminals are criminals if you commit a crime, no matter the circumstances behind it. If only one person would have understood that I knew this and was scared of being arrested on my own or even alongside the person trafficking me, I would have used my voice to report him and other crimes that actual criminals committed. You see, they had a choice and I didn’t.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., released a statement in conjunction with the press conference and legislative meetings. “New York is safer when survivors and witnesses feel comfortable reporting crimes. But individuals involved in the commercial sex trade often feel reluctant to report crimes because they are afraid they will be prosecuted themselves for prostitution offenses.” He implored the legislature to pass the bill. “Silencing these individuals does not protect us, it only protects the perpetrators of the crimes these survivors and witnesses are too afraid to report,” Bragg added.
New York residents can send a letter in support of this critical legislation here.
Learn more about immunity/good samaritan/safe reporting laws for sex workers and survivors of trafficking around the country here.