Prostitution Is on the Verge of Being Legalized — These Women Want it to Stop
As bills to decriminalize prostitution continue popping up across the country, these advocates say there’s a better way to support people in the sex trade.
By Shalayne Pulia Sep 12, 2019
From left: Shobana Powell, Ane Mathieson, Rebecca Dince Zipkin, Melanie Thompson, Yvonne Chen, Alexi Ashe Meyers, Shandra Woworuntu, and Laura Ramírez in New York. Photographed by Mark Lim.
Earlier this year, when a bill calling for full decriminalization of prostitution was introduced in New York, eyes across the nation turned to the Empire State. Supporters think the bill and others like it would create a safer environment for people exploited in the sex trade and empower them to have agency over their bodies.
But Alexi Ashe Meyers, an attorney at Sanctuary for Families (SFF) and co-chair of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, insists this is not the case. Ashe Meyers, who has dedicated her career to supporting survivors of gender-based violence, says full decriminalization would more than likely lead to an increase in sex trafficking, which is currently an estimated $150 billion-a-year global industry.
“If you remove any impediments to buying sex and normalize it, there’ll be an increase in that act. People from the most impoverished and marginalized communities then get trafficked in to meet that demand,” she explains.
“I want people to understand how regressive and antifeminist it would be to decriminalize an industry in which women are bought and sold for the pleasure of men.”
Ashe Meyers and the sex-trade survivors, lawyers, and experts featured here support the Equality Model (also known as the Nordic Model), in which only those who buy sex as well as third-party exploiters are criminally prosecuted.
This framework, already in place in several countries such as Sweden, Canada, and France, not only keeps sex workers out of jail but also provides them with access to medical care, housing, and other social services to help them leave the industry. It also establishes education initiatives to spread public awareness about the harmful effects of the trade.
As part of a coalition of anti-trafficking organizations, SFF, which serves more than 15,000 survivors of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence in New York each year, is planning to launch a campaign to advocate for Equality Model legislation. Hear from some of its leadership and allies, below.
SFF’s survivor leadership coordinator runs a program that helps survivors of gender violence get involved in advocacy, directly support their peers, create and consult on programs and policies, and spread public awareness. “One of the survivors I work with said I helped her dream for herself again. And, to me, that is the most beautiful definition of empowerment,” she says.
“My life’s goal is to walk alongside survivors, bear witness to what they’ve been through, and clear the way for them to spread their wings.”
SFF’s lead program specialist of justice and empowerment for teens, which helps young people who have been exploited in the sex trade, studied the Equality Model’s effects in other countries from 2012 to 2013 and has been pushing to bring the legal framework to the U.S. ever since.
“We shouldn’t be OK with men and boys’ using their socioeconomic power to buy sexual access to someone with less power,” she says. “The Equality Model instead recognizes people who are bought and sold in the sex industry as survivors and provides them with services they need to heal.
The time is right for folks to be receptive to passing this fundamentally more feminist and empowering legislation.”