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The shock of reading that state legislators are calling for the legalization of prostitution in our state still leaves me shaking. Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos are leading the charge, joined by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried. They are pushing to fully decriminalize the sex trade, meaning pimps and johns alike would get a free ride for the harms they cause. New Yorkers should know that the vast majority of people in prostitution were sex-trafficked as children, homeless, sexually abused, in foster care or otherwise racially and economically marginalized.
The trauma they experienced never goes away. I am one of them. I was bought and sold countless times for sex. I was only The NYPD arrested me for my exploitation.
I was blamed for my agony. Thousands of us, mostly black and brown girls like me, are bought by men with money, like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft or Wall Street financier Jeffrey Epstein, but also your neighbor. They just see us as disposable objects to satisfy their sexual needs. Why would New York want to legalize indescribable violence? Their argument, roughly, goes: When prostitution is illegal, women are especially powerless to report crimes against them.
Bring it out of the shadows and women will be fine. But this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what prostitution is. If prostitution is a job like any other, why would the state be under any obligation to provide housing or exit services? Will New York offer disenfranchised girls application forms to work in brothels or illicit massage parlors?
Some of the very same people who are working hard to raise consciousness about sexual abuse, harassment and exploitation through the MeToo movement are ready to tell New York that sexual violence, harassment and dehumanization, which are inextricable from prostitution, should be formally protected under our laws.