Legalize prostitution in New York City, some suggest

By Jason Fink and Marlene Naanes

Ban indoor smoking. Cut trans fat. But to some New Yorkers, sex for sale may be OK.

As San Franciscans prepare to head to the polls next month to decide whether prostitution should be decriminalized, some in New York said Wednesday that a similar idea in Gotham may make the trade safer and free police to crack down on other crimes.

“Sex is in this country is really taboo,” said Julia Rich, 21, or Park Slope. “If it’s more out in the open then we could find ways to organize that business. It would help the women and it would help police.”Advocates for the ballot measure in San Francisco say the police will free up $11 million a year they would have otherwise spent arresting prostitutes. However, one local criminal justice expert said legalization would not have the same impact here. In New York the NYPD often targets sex workers only in response to specific complaints from citizens, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

“It’s almost always that there’s a clamor, there’s people screaming, ‘Get this off the streets, it’s near the schools,’” O’Donnell said. “There is no war on prostitution the way there is a war on drugs.”

NYPD officials yesterday failed to provide details on its efforts targeting prostitution. A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to comment on the issue.

While no major U.S. city has legalized prostitution, more than two dozen foreign countries and two states - Nevada and Rhode Island - permit it in some form.

Sienna Baskin, an attorney for the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, said there’s no doubt prostitutes would see an immediate improvement in their lives if the sale of sex was legalized in New York.

“People are cycling through the system and getting a longer and longer criminal record and that makes it tougher to leave the sex trade business,” Baskin said.

Trinia James, 39, of the Lower East Side, agreed that the pros may outweigh the cons.

“If they’re already doing it, why not make it legal and not just keep locking them up all the time,” James said. “That way they \[the police\] can spend more time on other crimes.”

However, some New Yorkers were strongly opposed to promoting the world’s oldest profession, fearing the greater impact it may have.

“Children would look at that and they would see it’s legal and they would think they could make a lot of money doing that,” said Denelle Walton, 25, Crown Heights.

“I have a little boy and a lot of nieces and nephews,” said Raj Madho, 35, of Queens Village, “so that helps shape my opinion.”

Asked if legalization could potentially lead to increased tax revenue, Madho said she would prefer City Hall to find money somewhere else.

“Coming from a religious background, using that kind of money, they say it has a curse on it,” she said.

Tags: nypd , michael bloomberg , prostitution , san francisco , crime , sex workers project , urban justice center

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