By Ariama C. Long, Report for America Corps Member at Amsterdam News
Advocates and officials are still arguing over sex trafficking and sex work legislation in the state assembly, the conversation being centered on how best to protect victims in a vicious industry that primarily affects Black and Brown girls in New York City.
President of National Organization for Women (NOW) New York Sonia Ossorio, and politicians like Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly member Pamela Hunter, support the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act, which “partially” decriminalizes people working as prostitutes while strengthening anti-trafficking laws against traffickers and buyers.
Meanwhile, Assembly member Richard Gottfried, Senator Jessica Ramos, and others are pushing bills A849, A459, and A255A, that “fully decriminalize” the sex trade between consenting adults and offers certain protections for sex workers. Only bill A459 has passed in both the assembly and senate as of now.
Gottfried’s office said that these bills separate essentially the sex trade from the criminal justice system, meaning full decriminalization of sex work involving consenting adults weeds out clear cases of sex trafficking so law enforcement can “concentrate on removing those problems.”
Last week, the NYPD announced the arraignment and arrest of Long Island City resident Walter Pinckney, 25, who is charged with “sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, assault, and related charges for the alleged sex trafficking” of a young woman in East Flatbush and East New York in Brooklyn and elsewhere, said the district attorney’s office.
“We recognize that the vast majority of people who are in the sex trade are there because they’re poor, because they’re doing survival sex and they would like to get out. We recognize that many people are making that choice out of very limited choices in their lives,” said Ossorio.
Ossorio said it’s no coincidence that Black and Brown women are disproportionately the people who are bought and sold in the sex trade.
“This young woman allegedly suffered horrific abuse at the hands of this defendant. Thankfully, she was able to escape and get help. We must continue to do all we can to raise awareness of human trafficking and to prosecute those who engage in this appalling crime,” said Brooklyn District Attorney (DA) Eric Gonzalez in a statement.
Between May 11, 2021, and June 6, 2021, Pinckney allegedly forced a 24-year-old woman who he met through mutual friends to work as a prostitute after taking sexually suggestive photos of her. He posted the photos in advertisements on two websites that offered sex in exchange for money. It is alleged that when the victim said she did not want to work in prostitution, Pinckney hit and beat her into submission, said the DA’s office.
In June, the woman was taken to a house in East Flatbush and held at the location and allegedly not given much food or water while she was tied up with an electrical cord. She eventually was able to escape and call 911 from a local corner store down the street, said the DA’s office.
Ossorio said unfortunately that this is a scenario that has happened multiple times in the city and is a clear case of sex trafficking and holding someone against their will, which is a little different from the general sex worker in the life.
She said the ‘promoting prostitution’ charge in particular, under the current laws is how law enforcement uncovers and investigates sex trafficking.
Ossorio referenced another instance of a major sex trafficking ring that was busted up last year.
Attorney General (AG) Letitia James, in conjunction with the NYPD’s Vice Major Case Squad and Human Trafficking Team, conducted a long-term joint investigation into Paul Alexander. He is a 57-year-old man in the Bronx that was running a sex trafficking ring involving young girls when he was arrested and charged in December 2020, said the AG’s office.
The investigative team determined that Alexander trafficked girls aged 12 to 16 across county lines for sex. Between 2018 and 2020, Alexander would “lure” female teenage victims to his apartment in Bronx County, often using marijuana and food to entice them. Once there, Alexander would attempt to perform sexual acts with them, expose himself to them, and show the victims nude photographs, said the AG’s office.
“The sexual exploitation of children is disgraceful, sickening, and blatantly illegal,” said James in a statement. “Adults have the responsibility to protect children, yet Alexander’s alleged actions exposed minors to untold pain and suffering. My office will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to root out sex traffickers and child abusers, and bring justice to their victims.”
Ossorio said that opposing bills Gottfried supports would lead to an increase in the demand in the sex trade. She said NOWNY is sounding the alarm on the “dangerous” bills in the legislature that will decriminalize everything.
“As it is to meet the current demand, traffickers, pimps, import women from other countries. They find vulnerable women so that men can have women they buy for sex, and they target our kids to meet demand,” said Ossorio, “They go to the poorest neighborhoods across our city to get them.”
Gottfried’s office argued that partial criminalization is fundamentally wrong in assuming that demand for “sexual services is what drives people into sex work” and that all sex work is “inherently exploitive.”
Gottfried’s office said the bills maintain punishments against trafficking, coercion, sexual abuse, sex work involving minors, and rape without stopping sex work between consenting adults.
Sex workers won’t be treated or isolated as criminals vulnerable to abuse, as it is under current New York law, said Gottfried’s office.
Gottfried’s office said that charges under the “broadly defined crime of ‘promoting’ sex work” isn’t always helpful to investigative teams looking to end sex trafficking rings, like in Pinckney’s or Alexander’s cases.
It usually means that a friend or loved one providing shelter, transportation, and even condoms to a sex worker is made a criminal just for trying to offer some measure of safety, said Gottfried’s office.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America Corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the AmsterdamNews. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w