Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced Wednesday that his office will no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage, and moved to dismiss nearly 6,000 cases dating back to the 1970s. Along with seeking to vacate 878 open prostitution cases and 36 unlicensed massage cases, Vance asked the Manhattan Criminal Court to discharge 5,080 cases where the main offense was “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” New York State scrapped that “loitering” crime, known as “walking while trans,” in February.
Many of the cases Vance requested dismissed “dated to the 1970s and 1980s, when New York waged a war against prostitution in an effort to clean up its image as a center of iniquity and vice,” The New York Times notes. The cases “are both a relic of a different New York, and a very real burden for the person who carries the conviction or bench warrant,” Vance said in a statement. “Over the last decade we’ve learned from those with lived experience, 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.”
While sex workers won’t face charges, Vance’s office confirmed “it will not change the office’s existing approach to arresting patrons of prostitution,” NPR News reports. The Manhattan D.A. will also “prosecute other crimes related to prostitution,” including “promoting prostitution and sex trafficking,” the Times adds. “That means, in effect, that the office will continue to prosecute pimps and sex traffickers, as well as people who pay for sex, continuing to fight those who exploit or otherwise profit from prostitution.”
Vance is the highest-profile prosecutor to shift away from prosecuting sex workers, but the movement is gaining steam. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City’s other boroughs have all stopped prosecuting prostitution to varying degrees.