Prostitution and unlicensed massage criminal cases will no longer be prosecuted in Manhattan, the district attorney announced Wednesday, joining a national trend. "Over the last decade we've learned from those with lived experience," Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement, "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." The policy change is effective immediately: Vance asked a judge Wednesday to drop 914 open cases involving prostitution and unlicensed massage, some of them dating from the 1970s, as well as 5,080 cases involving a charge of loitering for the purposes of prostitution.
The office already was dropping prosecution once the defendant attended mandatory counseling sessions. "Now, we will decline to prosecute these arrests outright, providing services and supports solely on a voluntary basis," Vance said, per WNBC. The change will eliminate "collateral consequences" for people arrested, he said, per the Hill, and let people deal with police without fear of being arrested or deported. Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, are among those who have urged an end to criminal penalties for sex workers. McCray said, "Sex work is a means of survival" for some members of marginalized groups. Other related crimes, such as sex trafficking and patronizing sex workers, will still be prosecuted. One advocate welcomed Vance's announcement but said legislation is still needed to completely decriminalize sex work. (Read more prostitution stories.)