State Lawmakers Looking To Decriminalize Prostitution as Migrant-Fueled ‘Red Light Districts’ Proliferate Across New York City   

Albany Democrats are eyeing a bill to decriminalize prostitution, as sex trafficking and open-air prostitution markets are on the rise throughout New York City since the influx of migrants desperate for work began three years ago.

The state legislation would “repeal statutes that criminalize sex work between consenting adults, but keep laws relating to minors or trafficking,” and also “provide for criminal record relief for people convicted of crimes repealed under this bill,” according to its text.


Prostitution could be the latest vice to secure a win in New York after smoking marijuana and gambling on sports became legal in recent years. Advocates see sex work as a victimless crime, and argue that legalizing it will give prostitutes better access to housing and medical resources and help protect them against abuse or assault.

Critics, meanwhile, express concern that decriminalizing sex work in New York will encourage the industry to grow quicker than can be regulated by the legislature. That’s what happened with marijuana — it was legalized before there was a regulatory framework in place, leading to more shops selling the drug illegally.

“While New Yorkers are screaming about quality of life and public safety concerns, radical Democrats in the Capitol are continuing their ‘Decriminalize, Defund & Decarcerate’ approach to governing,” New York State assembly minority leader, Will Barclay, tells the Sun. “Legalizing prostitution should be a non-starter. With four days left in session, the focus should be on helping communities rather than the left-wing’s ongoing attack on law and order.”


Queens residents have observed an increase in prostitutes on Roosevelt Avenue during the daytime, turning their neighborhood into what one Elmhurst resident called “a red light district.” Another of these “districts” has emerged in East New York, Brooklyn, where Mr. Adams said prostitution is “overt during the day.”

The New York Police Department, meanwhile, has been accused of looking the other way when it comes to stopping sex work in the city.

In 2021, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office stopped prosecuting prostitution cases. That same year, the Brooklyn District Attorney began dismissing prostitution-related warrants. Governor Cuomo, though he opposed decriminalization, signed a bill limiting law enforcement’s ability to treat prostitution as a crime after some politicians and LGBTQ advocates voiced concerns about discrimination by law enforcement.

There were about 20,000 prostitution arrests in 1985 and only 107 last year, Gothamist reported in March. Rather than arresting prostitutes, the New York Police Department has been targeting the establishments that employ them.


Decriminalizing prostitution is different from legalizing it — which has been done only in the state of Nevada in the form of regulated brothels. If prostitution were decriminalized, it would remain illegal, but the legal system would not prosecute a person for the act.

The New York bill, sponsored by a state senator, Julia Salazar, and co-sponsored by seven other Democratic state senators, is currently being discussed in committee by the state senate. If it passes the state senate floor, it is then up to Governor Hochul to sign it.

Mrs. Hochul told reporters in 2021 that decriminalizing sex work “is absolutely something I’ve thought about and I’m considering.” In July of 2023, her administration launched a $1 million dollar “sex worker health pilot program” which would give prostitutes access to primary, mental health, and dental care. Mrs. Hochul’s press office did not immediately respond to the Sun’s request for comment on the new bill.


Other New York lawmakers, led by state senator Liz Kreuger, are pushing a competing bill that aims to protect prostitutes from prosecution and expunge their past convictions. The measure would ensure that others involved in the transaction — like pimps — can still be prosecuted.

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