When I took on my first client as a sex worker in the 1980s, I had no other choice. It was just after the fall of the dictatorship in Argentina. As a young trans woman, I discovered that sex work was the only way for me to survive, but I was constantly faced with harassment and violence, especially from the police.. So I left my house to come to the United States, thinking things would be different.
But when I got here, I was not lucky. Besides being trans, I also had a hard time being undocumented and learning English. Once again, I turned to sex work to stay afloat. In less than two weeks, I was arrested while walking on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach; the police laughed at me, beat me up and left me in a prison cell full of men.
I have spent the last decade of my life fighting for the decriminalization of adult sex work, to heal all those times that I have been harassed, beaten and raped – not by clients but by sex workers. law enforcement.
Currently, there are two bills to decriminalize sex work in the New York State Legislature, one of which may soon be presented to Governor Kathy Hochul. But while both attempt to address very valid concerns about sex trafficking, only one addresses the needs of sex workers.
The first, the Stop violence in the sex trade bill, is sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar. This bill seeks to decriminalize the industry – including sex workers, clients and managers – while carefully continuing to protect minors and trafficked persons. The origin of this bill goes back three years, to ideas promoted by a group I helped found, Decrim NY. Our lobbying led to overthrow a criminal law against vagrancy that law enforcement has long used as a pretext to harass trans women, regardless of their involvement in the sex trade.
We knew that the best way to help sex workers was not to decriminalize only their actions but also those of their clients. The legal pressure clients face is absorbed by sex workers: a smaller clientele means lower wages and poorer working conditions, with clients who are more likely to act in ways that make life better. sex workers more difficult.
We believe that criminalization on either side of the sex trade does not help protect sex workers, but simply perpetuates the social stigma that treats sex work as an inherently harmful activity – a stigma that I have long worked on. eradicate.
Sex work is a service industry. We often help people with social anxiety or disabilities and those who are new to their sexuality or gender identity. Clients and co-workers (who are often prosecuted as traffickers) very often provide care to sex workers as well. It was a sex worker who helped me escape a trafficking situation, not the police. He was a client who encouraged and helped me get into a drug treatment program, and he was a client who gave me my first immigration legal advice and helped me open my first bank account.
I have, of course, had my share of bad clients. But even when I didn’t like doing it and felt like I had no other options, sex work kept me alive.
This brings us to the rival bill of Senator Salazar’s. This bill, the Justice and Equality of Sex Work Survivors Act, was pushed forward by State Senator Liz Krueger. Known as Bill Survivors, it threatens to derail Bill Salazar for total decriminalization. This bill would decriminalize only sex workers, not their clients or managers. While the Stop the Violence Bill seeks to keep current legislation on sex trafficking in place, the stated purpose of the Survivors Bill is to strengthen these laws.
But for sex workers who aren’t trafficked, partial decriminalization doesn’t work, and we have evidence. Senator Krueger’s approach to sex work first appeared in Sweden in 1999; it is often called the Nordic model. Research has shown that in countries where the Nordic model has been instituted, workers are worse off than those in New Zealand. In countries following the Nordic model, sex workers negociation power is weaker and they live with higher levels of anxiety and discrimination.
In contrast, New Zealand, which fully decriminalized sex work for all adults who do not hold temporary work visas and established some regulations in 2003 with the Prostitution Reform Act, has seen substantial improvement. of the lives of people in the sex trade. A 2007 independent survey, funded by the government, found that nearly 65% of sex workers found it easier to refuse clients and 57% said police attitudes towards sex workers had improved.
It saddens me that Senator Krueger and her supporters are presenting their bill as a feminist choice when it goes against the interests and wishes of so many women in the sex trade. New York has the opportunity to take the lead in recognizing the rights and dignity of female sex workers in the United States, where sex work is criminalized in all counties except a few countries. We should not have to accept a half measure that deprives us of agency and subjects us to excessive surveillance under the pretext of saving ourselves.
Cecilia Gentili is the Founder of Transgender Equity Consulting and Director of Gender Inclusion at CAI Global and sits on the Board of Directors of the Stonewall Community Foundation.