Andrea Stewart Cousins
President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader
New York State Senate
New York State Assembly
Senator Cousins and Speaker Heastie:
We collectively call on you to immediately pass the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act, Intro S. 6040/A.7069, (the “Sex Trade Survivors Act”) to lead the charge toward fighting sex trafficking, ending the criminalization of people engaged in prostitution, protecting the State’s most vulnerable people and addressing the exploitive system of prostitution.
The Sex Trade Survivors Act is a progressive bill that creates tenable, well-tailored, holistic solutions to address prostitution and prevent sex trafficking in our State. The legislation repeals the crime of engaging in prostitution (NYPL 230.00) so that no individual exploited in the sex trade, whether or not that person was sex trafficked, will face criminal penalties. No one should be charged for their vulnerability or exploitation. The Sex Trade Survivors Act further expunges the records of those previously charged with prostitution. The legislation also expands social services and access to those services for survivors.
The bill maintains the misdemeanor crime of sex buying, adding monetary fines to the charge. These fines are carefully calibrated to take into account the buyer’s socio-economic status, allowing greater fines to be applied to those with more privilege and disposable income, and who are doing the most harm. Further, under the Act, these fines will be directed to a victims’ compensation fund that will aid survivors of the sex trade.
Globally, many countries, including France, Sweden, Canada, and several others, have enacted similar legislation to the Sex Trade Survivors Act, as a tool to prevent sex trafficking and offer the urgent services people in prostitution need. Studies show that in jurisdictions where the sex trade is legalized or fully decriminalized, a higher incidence of sex trafficking occurs. Basic economics explain this phenomenon: if a government sanctions the demand for commercial sex, traffickers and other exploiters will meet that demand by recruiting and abusing our most vulnerable populations—especially women and girls of color, and transgender and gender non-conforming youth, and those that have experienced homelessness or the foster care system.
The system of prostitution cannot be untangled from gender-based violence, discrimination, and inequalities. People in prostitution suffer extremely high levels of violence: 62% of individuals in prostitution report being raped and 73% report being physically assaulted in the sex trade. Increased demand for prostitution (patronizing or sex buying), leads to the recruitment of younger, more vulnerable individuals to meet that demand. Traffickers and other profiteers use psychological coercion and often violence in an attempt to control their victims and ensure silence and complacency. In the U.S., approximately 50% of victims seek medical care while in their trafficking and exploitation situation. There is simply no way to end gender-based violence should the state encourage sex buyers’ purchasing of vulnerable people for sexual acts.
Without a doubt, the lifelong impact of the system of prostitution on survivors cannot be overstated. Survivors of the sex trade report high rates of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, substance use, suicidal ideation or attempts, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative disorders, as well as other severe negative health consequences.
The Sex Trade Survivors Act recognizes these disturbing realities and calls for expanded access to social services for those in the sex trade, including medical, mental health, housing, and other necessary support.
New York needs a nuanced and holistic approach to address prostitution that will shrink this exploitative system and provide resources to those impacted by it most. This is why we have partnered with legislators on the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act – legislation that will solely decriminalize people in prostitution, expand access to comprehensive services, strengthen anti-trafficking laws and advance criminal justice reform. New York must act immediately to pass the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act, SB 6040-2021/A7069 .