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Opinion | Don’t Fully Decriminalize Sex Work

To the Editor:

Re “Only Full Decriminalization Will Help Sex Workers,” by Cecilia Gentili (Opinion guest essay, Oct. 18):

I’m a transgender woman and sex trade survivor who, like Ms. Gentili, was forced into prostitution because of economic coercion. However, I fundamentally disagree that expanding the rights of pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers will keep women like us safe.

When I began my gender transition, circumstances forced me into prostitution for survival. Sex buyers dehumanized and treated me like a fetish and commodity. Pimps threatened me. I wanted to leave prostitution but, like most in prostitution, couldn’t.

“Full decriminalization,” or what we call the “exploitation model,” throws our fate into the hands of the free market and under the control of a multibillion-dollar industry placing profit over people. This untenable “solution” would only exacerbate the problem and offer no exit services.

There’s a better way. The “equality model” decriminalizes people exploited in prostitution and provides exit services. And it still holds pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers accountable. Expanding the rights of those who profit and benefit from our exploitation won’t make us safer. Decriminalize people exploited in prostitution, not the people exploiting them.

Esperanza Fonseca
North Hollywood, Calif.

To the Editor:

At Covenant House we empathize greatly with Cecilia Gentili’s experience of being mistreated as a sex worker when she was merely trying to survive. That is why Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless young adults, supports the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act, which would ensure that no person is arrested for selling sex in New York.

However, Ms. Gentili’s advocacy efforts to fully decriminalize prostitution, including for clients and promoters, go too far and endanger vulnerable young adults. Already, recent public messaging that prostitution is a victimless crime has led to an uptick in the number of pimps who wait down the street from our Covenant House shelter, preying on our most vulnerable youth.

Decriminalization provides increased incentive for pimps to lure in primarily Black and brown young people in poverty, L.G.B.T.Q. youth who have been kicked out of their home, those who have aged out of foster care and homeless youth. Our goal should be to protect these young people, to lift them up and help them pursue the great promise of their lives.

The bill that Ms. Gentili supports, Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades, will gut the anti-trafficking laws of New York and will encourage travelers from around the world to come to New York to buy the most vulnerable among us.

Nancy Downing
New York
The writer is executive director of Covenant House New York.

To the Editor:

To put an end to Senator Joe Manchin’s selfish demands, President Biden needs to put him in a room with Greta Thunberg for half a day.

Judith Hurd
Bernalillo, N.M.

To the Editor:

Re “Brink’s Robbery Participant, Now 77, Is Granted Parole” (news article, Oct. 27):

The New York State parole board’s grant of David Gilbert’s parole should be hailed as a welcome example of the recognition of his 40-year rehabilitation.

Mr. Gilbert was a participant in a robbery that left two police officers and a Brink’s guard dead. He has accepted responsibility for the tragic consequences of his crime and repeatedly expressed his profound remorse. At the age of 77, he poses no threat to the safety and security of anyone.

People change over time. Our system of criminal justice also must change. The impact of mass incarceration must be addressed and remedied, especially for communities of color and the families of those jailed. This grant of parole to David Gilbert, who has a demonstrated record of nonviolence and helping and mentoring others who are jailed, should be celebrated.

Martin Garbus
New York
The writer is a civil rights and First Amendment lawyer.

To the Editor:

Re “College Degrees Are Overrated,” by Peter Coy (Opinion, nytimes.com, Oct. 18):

Mr. Coy’s claim may be fashionable in some quarters. But it’s just plain wrong, and it does a disservice to those considering the many available postsecondary education pathways.

Income and job security are almost perfectly correlated with a college education. On any measure of social wellness that demographers can devise, college graduates are better off than people who don’t go to college. Research shows that college graduates are healthier, happier and live longer than those who don’t go to college.

Mr. Coy’s essay also sets up a false dichotomy between earning a college degree and preparing for the workplace. Employers value the critical thinking skills fostered by a liberal arts degree. There are low-cost community colleges and their many occupation-oriented programs. And there is the American Council on Education’s Apprenticeship Pathways project dedicated to expanding the range of alternative educational experiences eligible for college credit.

Nothing in life is guaranteed. Education does not necessarily mean career success and high income, but it’s generally the way to go.

Terry W. Hartle
The writer is senior vice president of the American Council on Education.

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