Report: Consequences of Policing Prostitution
Date:  04-07-2017

The Legal Aid Society of New York City Exploitation Intervention Project recommends a different response to people arrested for sex work
From Urban Institute:

In New York City, The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project (EIP) represents most people prosecuted for violating state prostitution laws. EIP also represents survivors of trafficking into prostitution facing other charges in the criminal legal system. A relatively new provision in New York law allows these survivors to vacate, or clear, charges from their criminal records if those charges were a result of having been trafficked. Urban Institute researchers gathered data from both groups of EIP clients to describe who is currently facing arrest in New York City for prostitution offenses and who has faced arrest and prosecution for prostitution in the past. Findings suggest a need to reevaluate the criminal legal response to people arrested for prostitution-related charges.


Since 2011, The Legal Aid Society’s Exploitation Intervention Project has represented thousands of individuals, mostly women, charged with prostitution-related offenses across all five New York City boroughs, both before and since the implementation of the human trafficking intervention courts (HTICs), a statewide prostitution diversion court initiative.1 EIP provides direct representation and comprehensive services to people charged with prostitution-related offenses and survivors of trafficking facing prosecution for other offenses in New York City’s criminal courts.

In addition to its advocacy in the HTICs, EIP seeks “vacatur,” or clearing, of prostitution-related and other associated offenses from past and present clients’ criminal records when it is understood that those offenses occurred as a result of human trafficking. EIP has been spearheading vacatur efforts for trafficking survivors across New York State and the rest of the country. To date, EIP has used New York’s vacatur law to clear 1,255 criminal convictions for trafficking survivors.

From 2015 to 2016, EIP attorneys collected information on sociodemographic characteristics, victimization histories, and service needs from virtually all defendants charged with prostitution offenses in New York City. The Urban Institute research team analyzed the data collected from these 1,400 cases. The team also coded 51 case files for clients who obtained vacatur of past charges and interviewed 20 clients from that group. This report presents findings from the Urban Institute’s analysis and demonstrates how criminalization can affect people with trafficking histories and their educational, career, family, and health goals.

Key findings include the following:

  • Ninety-one percent of people arrested for unlicensed massage were foreign nationals; 37 percent were undocumented. Fifty-nine percent of clients in this group were ages 40 and older.

  • Thirty-five percent of EIP clients reported having been trafficked into sex work at least once, including 20 percent who reported that they were currently being trafficked.

  • EIP clients who were most likely to report a history of sex trafficking victimization included non-Asian US citizens, those with less than a high school education, those with prior family court involvement, and those who reported they had been homeless in the past five years. Each of these characteristics was also significantly correlated with current trafficking victimization.

  • The highest shares of clients needing services were those with a history of trafficking victimization, prior sexual or physical assault victimization, and involvement with family court.

  • Most EIP clients interviewed reported being treated as criminals, not victims, by police and the courts. Many had last interacted with the criminal legal system before New York State introduced HTICs.

  • All 20 vacatur clients interviewed were grateful for the opportunity to have prostitution charges cleared from their records and would encourage other trafficking survivors to do so. Though many considered the process beneficial, some were traumatized by revisiting their trafficking experiences, and several wished the process were quicker and easier.

    Read the full report here.