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New York could become first state to fully decriminalize sex work

Democratic lawmakers in New York have proposed a bill that would decriminalize prostitution. The new legislation, unveiled Monday, also looks to eliminate prior criminal records related to most sex work offenses. If passed, it would be the first of its kind in the U.S.

Sens. Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar introduced the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, which is aimed at removing criminal penalties for sex workers, who are often targets of street violence and arrests.

"We want to bring sex workers out of the shadows and ensure that they are protected," Ramos said in a news conference. "We will finally make strides against trafficking by empowering sex workers to report violence against them. Sex work is work and everyone has an inherent right to a safe workplace."

The new bill, which was drafted with the help of sex worker advocacy group Decrim NY, would repeal and amend several statutes.

If it passes, the bill would make it legal to both sell and buy sex under specific circumstances. Additionally, the legislation would regulate places where prostitution takes place in order to make working conditions safer for sex workers.

Many misdemeanor charges related to prostitution would be repealed. The legislation does not eliminate charges in some circumstances, including prostitution in a school zone, which is a misdemeanor offense. The legislation also does not propose changes to current laws related to sex trafficking and offenses related to minors.

Advocates are doubtful the bill will be up for vote by the time the Democrat-led Senate and Assembly session ends June 19.

Rebecca Zipkin and Alexi Meyers of Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit group that advocates for sex trafficking victims, told CBS News they support much of the Decrim NY movement, such as the repeal of the loitering law and decriminalizing people in prostitution. However, they do not support laws that decriminalize sex buying or promoting prostitution. According to Zipkin and Meyers, fully decriminalizing prostitution doesn't make conditions safer for workers — it has the adverse effect. 

"Most often it increases sex trafficking," Zipkin said."If you legalize, you are condoning brothels to become businesses and pimps to become business managers. That's what we've seen around the world. The argument about safety is false."

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