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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    About Molly:
    Molly Crabapple is an artist and writer in New York. She is the author of two books, Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun, (with Marwan Hisham). Her reportage has been published in the New York Times, New York Review of Books, The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere. She has been the recipient of a Yale Poynter Fellowship, a Front Page Award, and shortlisted for a Frontline Print Journalism Award. She is often asked to discuss her work chronicling the conflicts of the 21st Century, and has appeared on All In with Chris Hayes, Amanpour, NPR, BBC News, and more. Her art is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the United States Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society.

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