Six years ago, Laura Mullen was raped by members of a criminal gang at knifepoint on Long Island. But her fear of being charged for prostitution stopped her from reporting the crime.
Today, she is advocating for legislation that gives sex workers and trafficking victims immunity from prosecution when they report crimes and seek medical care.
Protecting sex workers and trafficking victims
On May 10, Mullen and other advocates came together to make their appeal to lawmakers. They argue that without immunity, sex workers and trafficking victims currently risk arrest and harassment when they come forward to report a crime.
Mullen also says that immunity from prosecution will help sex workers and trafficking victims avoid a criminal record, which is important if they want to find a job in another industry in the future.
“Taking that one prostitution charge away gives them confidence, it gives them security, and it lets them know that when they do change their life they’re not going to have that on their back forever.”
Making New York safer
Rebecca Cleary from Decriminalize Sex Work, a sex work advocacy group, believes that the bill would be beneficial for the police too, as they would be more likely to get critical information from witnesses.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg agrees. Gothamist quotes a memo he wrote in support of the bill:
“New York is safer when survivors and witnesses feel comfortable reporting crimes. Silencing these individuals does not protect us, it only protects the perpetrators of the crimes these survivors and witnesses are too afraid to report.”
Could the bill pass?
State Senator Luis Sepulveda, D-Bronx, co-sponsor of the bill with Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, D-Manhattan, was optimistic about the bill, which had been stalled by the pandemic.
Just last week, Colorado passed a similar bill, joining Oregon, California, New Hampshire and Vermont which have already approved immunity legislation. New York could indeed be next.
California’s Safer Streets for All Act
We know criminalizing sex workers does nothing to prevent trafficking and discourages trafficking victims from seeking support from authorities. The Safer Streets for All Act in California will stop survivors of trafficking and sex workers from facing a criminal record simply for walking on the street. It will repeal Section 653.22 of California’s penal code — a harmful law that criminalizes loitering for the intent to engage in prostitution. In practice it does little more than harm survivors of trafficking and is applied disproportionately against cis and trans women of color, often working in the sex industry.