What Is New York Prostitution
Prostitution has a long and complex history in New York City. While technically illegal, prostitution has persisted in various forms throughout the city’s history. Here is an overview of New York prostitution laws, the current state of the sex trade, and perspectives on how it should be handled.
New York Prostitution Laws
The act of prostitution – engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money – is illegal in New York under Penal Law 230.00. Prostitution is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 3 months in jail. Patronizing a prostitute is also illegal.
There are also laws against promoting prostitution:
- Advancing prostitution in the third degree – knowingly advancing or profiting from prostitution of 1 person Penal Law 230.20. Class A misdemeanor.
- Advancing prostitution in the second degree – advancing or profiting from prostitution of 2+ people or someone under 19 Penal Law 230.30. Class D felony.
- Advancing prostitution in the first degree – owning a prostitution business or enterprise Penal Law 230.32. Class B felony.
There are also enhanced penalties for prostitution or patronizing a prostitute within a school zone Penal Law 230.03.
Current State of Prostitution in NYC
Prostitution still occurs throughout New York City, though it has changed forms over the years.
- Internet – Much prostitution has moved online, through websites and apps. However, sites like Backpage were shut down under federal law FOSTA/SESTA.
- Massage Parlors – Illicit massage parlors exist, though police sometimes raid them. In 2017, a 38-year-old massage worker died during a police raid in Queens.
- Street Prostitution – Street prostitution persists in areas like Hunts Point in the Bronx, East New York in Brooklyn, and Roosevelt Ave in Queens. The later has received recent media attention as the [“Market of Sweethearts”](https://nypost.com/2023/09/09/prostitution-in-nyc-market-of-sweethearts-prompts-tours/).
Many factors drive people into prostitution – poverty, abuse, addiction, discrimination, and lack of other options. Immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people of color engage in higher rates of street prostitution.
Police often target street prostitution and make thousands of prostitution-related arrests per year. However, some district attorneys like Manhattan’s have stopped prosecuting sex workers.
Perspectives on New York Prostitution
There are differing views on how New York should handle prostitution:
Decriminalization – Repeal laws against buying/selling sex between consenting adults. Focus on helping sex workers rather than arrests. Allow sex work to be regulated like other industries.
Demand Reduction – Keep selling sex decriminalized but increase penalties for buying sex and traffickers. Discourage demand for paid sex.
End Demand Model – Adopt Nordic model – decriminalize selling sex but criminalize buying sex and profiting from others’ prostitution.
Legalization – Legalize and regulate prostitution businesses and sex work, similar to Nevada.
Status Quo – Keep current laws against buying/selling sex. Enforce laws unevenly, targeting street prostitution.
Increased Criminalization – Strengthen and expand criminal laws against all forms of sex work.