In an ongoing effort to decriminalize sex work within the metro area, New York City officials have moved to dismiss nearly 1,500 pending criminal cases related to prostitution — arrests that tend to be highly biased and largely target transgender individuals and women of color.
On March 8, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced that her motion to dismiss more than 800 prostitution-related cases had been approved by the courts. And on March 17, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz issued a similar motion, requesting the dismissal of 700 similar charges, all involving offenses related to prostitution.
Citing the city’s recent repeal of what many called the “walking while trans” law — which allowed police to question and arrest anyone they suspected of potentially being a sex worker — as the reason for her motion, Katz said in a statement that “historical data shows that enforcement of this statute had primarily been used to arrest people based on their gender or appearance. Dismissing cases related to this unfair and now-repealed statute frees members of our community from the collateral consequences of their arrests.”
Mariel Padilla of the independent, nonprofit newsroom, The 19th has reported that “the dismissal of the cases in Queens and the Bronx coincides with [Mayor] de Blasio’s new proposal to support sex workers, part of the city’s larger plan to change how police work. The proposal outlines a future where no one is arrested for selling sex. A bill to legalize the buying and selling of sex was introduced in the state legislature in 2019, but it did not reach the Assembly or Senate floor.”
In a virtual news conference on March 16, de Blasio said “it’s time to decriminalize sex workers and focus our enforcement on those who exploit and profit off a broken system. We are calling on the state to end criminal penalties for sex workers and help us reach those in need without requiring involvement with the criminal justice system.”
According to Padilla, “the number of arrests in New York City for sex crimes has decreased about 21% from last year to this year to date, according to police data.”
However, she added, “racial disparities in arrests persist even as arrests drop. In 2019, about 33% of those arrested on all prostitution-related charges were Black, according to the police department. Thirty-one percent were Asian, 29% were Hispanic and [only] 7% were white.”