MANHATTAN — Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. announced he would end the prosecution of prostitution and unlicensed massage-related cases.
The district attorney made the announcement Wednesday and also said he would move to dismiss more than 900 cases dating back to the 1970s and more than 5,000 loitering for the purpose of prostitution cases following New York’s repeal of the “Walking While Trans” statute.
State court Judge Charlotte Davidson agreed to dismiss the thousands of prostitution-related offenses after Vance told her that he wanted the cases dropped because the accused were exploited sex workers who were “unfairly targeted” for prosecution.
“Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, and from our own experience on the ground: criminally prosecuting prostitution does not make us safer, and too often, achieves the opposite result by further marginalizing vulnerable New Yorkers,” Vance said in a statement.
“With today’s dismissals, we also close the book on Loitering for the Purpose of Prostitution, known as the ‘Walking While Trans’ for its decades of discriminatory enforcement, unfairly targeting members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
About 6,000 cases are to be dropped.
They involved convictions or open warrants with top charges of misdemeanor prostitution or unlicensed massage. The cases also include charges related to loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.
Prior to Vance’s announcement, the district attorney office’s policy was to dismiss prostitution cases in the interest of justice after the charged individual completed five counseling sessions with service providers.
The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project thanked the district attorney’s office and prosecutors who have listened to advocates and survivors.
“Countless sex workers, those profiled as sex workers, and trafficking victims have suffered under the weight of convictions and warrants. These perpetual punishments extend into family and immigration court, and impact our clients’ ability to find stability through housing and employment.
However, today’s announcement should not supplant the need to pass legislation that would fully decriminalize sex work and provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of prostitution offense. The Legal Aid Society reaffirms the need for Albany to enact S6419/A8230, legislation that would accomplish this, immediately this session.”
Abby Swenstein, staff attorney with Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project which represents many sex workers, says while she welcomes the changes a lot more needs to be done.
“I think it’s fantastic to have them, the DAs office, listen to people who are impacted and to listen to advocates, I would also like to encourage other jurisdictions to do,” she said. “What we would like to now see is the NYPD stop making these arrests and then we’d like to see the state decriminalize prostitution.”
Under the new policy, DA’s office will decline to prosecute all new prostitution and unlicensed massage related cases. Instead, Vance’s office has asked the NYPD to provide all individuals who are arrested with a written list of resources and an explanation that their case will not be processed, according to the Legal Aid Society.
Associated Press contributed to this report.