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Putting politics over safety, activists rejoice as NYC halts prosecution of sex workers

The overwhelming majority of murders of trans women occurred as a result of prostitution or domestic violence.

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Transgender advocates in Manhattan are rejoicing over a decision to stop criminally prosecuting sex workers despite warnings about potentially dire consequences from such an action.

NBC Out, the LGBT sector of the left-leaning news company, reported that Manhattan’s District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said in a statement last week, “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.” With this announcement comes the dismissal of around 6,000 open prostitution cases including 900 cases dating back to the 1970s. 

According to the 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey about 11% of transgender Americans have reported working in the sex industry, and another 2% admitted to having participated in sex acts in return for rent or a place to stay.

“For many transgender people, the sex trade can offer greater autonomy and financial stability compared to more traditional workplaces, with few barriers to entry,” the report states. According to activists, many Americans see prostitution as the only place to turn if they cannot find a reliable job. In New York, the number of transgender sex workers appears to be proportionately higher. A recently repealed law prohibiting loitering for the purpose of prostitution was called the “Walking While Trans” law by activists.  

Cecilia Gentili, founder of Transgender Equity Consulting, expressed elation over the decision in New York. “This resolute action to actively decriminalize sex workers is the kind of change our  community has been hoping for, advocating for, for decades,” she said, calling the D.A.’s action “one of the most significant steps taken nationally in the effort to stop criminalizing sex work.”

While the decision has halted prosecution of sex workers, it has not decriminalized sex work and in fact may work to encourage more of the highly dangerous behavior. The plan appears to signify Manhattan is moving toward the Nordic model of prostitution where the sex worker is not punished but those who seek to purchase sexual services may be punished.  

Advocates like Gentili often ignore the serious dangers sex workers routinely face. A study from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City found that “women involved in street prostitution are 60 to 100 times more likely to be murdered than are non-prostitute females. In addition, homicides of prostitutes are notoriously difficult to investigate and, as such, many cases remain unsolved.”

According to the Huffington Post “sex workers have a 45 to 75% chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers and a 32 to 55% chance of experiencing sexual violence in a given year.”

“One in five police reports of sexual assault from an urban, U.S. emergency room were filed by sex workers,” the left-wing blog continued.

Another survey of sex workers in New York City conducted through the Urban Justice Center found “24 out of 30 respondents (80 percent) experienced either violence or threats in the course of their work. 18 out of 30 respondents (60 percent) had experiences with male clients who became violent or tried to force them to do things they did not want to do.” 

One commonly heard narrative professes there is an epidemic of violence in the U.S. against trans women, especially trans women of color. Data crunched by the Federalists Chad Felix Greene shows the overwhelming majority of murders of trans women between 2015 and 2019 occurred as a result of prostitution or domestic violence. Despite the insinuation from groups like the Human Rights Campaign that these murders are often racially biased, in every single case the murderer turned out to be the same race as the victim. Only a small number of these murders, four out of 118, produced evidence the victim was targeted specifically because they were transgender.

Among the documented cases of trans women of color being murdered is Nikki Enriquez, who was killed by Juan David Ortiz in 2018. Ortiz was a Border Patrol supervisor and serial killer who targeted sex workers.

Another involves a 33-year-old transgender woman who went by the name Lexi and was stabbed to death in Harlem in 2020. Both HRC and the New York Daily News  reported Lexi was a sex worker who more than likely was killed by a fellow sex worker. According to sources, the fatal dispute may have been over a wig.  

“[These murders] result from cultural influences, dangerous environments, and high-risk engagements,” Greene wrote of his findings. “The most powerful effects the left, LGBT advocacy and media, and Democratic leaders could have in protecting transgender people would be to tell the truth about prostitution, drugs, risky sex practices, and domestic violence. Continuing the narrative of fighting hatred and bigotry will do nothing more than win popularity points; it won’t save lives.”

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