Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of ‘Rescuing’ Sex Workers

New York State’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs) are the first of their kind in the nation. Launched with great fanfare in September 2013, these courts redefined prostitutes as trafficking victims rather than criminals.

“Human trafficking is… a form of modern-day slavery that we simply cannot tolerate in a civilized society,” Judge Jonathan Lippman, the court’s creator, said at a press conference announcing the formation of the special courts. “We now recognize that the vast majority of individuals charged with prostitution offenses are commercially exploited or at risk of exploitation. By offering vital services instead of punishment to these defendants, the Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative will act to transform and save lives—and, in turn, enable law enforcement to identify, investigate, and punish the traffickers.”

Despite the claims of reformers like Judge Lippman, HTICs are as controlling as any other court. Prostitutes might be called victims, but they’re still arrested, still handcuffed, and still held in cages. The only difference is that they’re now in a system that doesn’t distinguish between workers and trafficked people. To the courts, anyone who’s been arrested for sex work is raw material, incapable of making his or her own choices. Those like Love, who did sex work out of financial necessity, before leaving of her own volition, might as well not exist.

“Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of ‘Rescuing’ Sex Workers,” Molly Crabapple for VICE

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