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BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

September 2, 2020

Contact: Dan Ball, dball@bds.org

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES’ STATEMENT ON MAYOR DE BLASIO’S COMMENTS ON THE ARRESTS OF SEX WORKERS

(BROOKLYN, NY) – Jillian Modzeleski, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, released the following statement on comments made by Mayor de Blasio today that sex workers should not be arrested. His comments followed the City’s $5.6 million settlement in the death of Layleen Polanco in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, where she was detained pre-trial on prostitution and other charges. 

“It is long past time we dispel the myth that people arrested on prostitution charges, nearly all of whom are Black, Latinx and Asian transgender and cisgender women, are ‘rescued’ by police officers and benefit from being arrested and prosecuted or placed into court-ordered diversion programs. The Mayor’s comments today suggest he agrees that the City should end the arrests of people who do sex work, and we hope he follows through with action. At the same time, we must dispel the other myths that NYPD focuses on traffickers, which is belied by arrest data, and that criminalization keeps people safe. The Mayor apparently supports the Nordic Model, which decriminalizes the sale of sexual services while continuing to criminalize the promotion and purchase of services. However, our experience shows law enforcement’s distinction between people who engage in sex work and people who organize and profit from—or ‘promote’—it is a false binary, as the same people are arrested for either charge. The people who organize sex work are often sex workers. Moreover, the Nordic Model stigmatizes and criminalizes many parts of the sex work industry and continues to put people who engage in sex work at grave risk. Real change means disbanding the Vice Squad, which has engaged in abusive policing for decades, ending arrests for sex work, and ultimately decriminalizing the sale and purchase of sexual services, and it must come now.”

BACKGROUND: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) provides multi-disciplinary and client-centered criminal, family, and immigration defense, as well as civil legal services, social work support and advocacy for tens of thousands of people in Brooklyn every year. BDS’ Human Trafficking Intervention Unit seeks to protect sex workers and victims of trafficking from the punitive nature of criminal legal system contact and provide meaningful services for those who are criminalized.