“Hotbed of Corruption”—NY Lawmakers Condemn Sex-Work Policing Amid Calls to Defund Vice Squad

    New York state assembly members and senators, as well as a NYC councilmember, are calling on the  NYPD’s inspector general to launch an independent investigation into the “consistent exploitation, endangerment, and victimization of sex workers by the NYPD,” and particularly its notoriously corrupt “Vice Squad.”

    Assembly Members Ron Kim and Dan Quart, State Senator Jessica Ramos, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres drafted a letter (see below), which was released April 5 to NYPD Inspector General Philip K. Eure. It describes the Vice Squad as a “hotbed of corruption” that, if investigated, “would be [found] similarly disturbing” as the recently investigated “disastrous Sex Crimes Unit.”

    The letter begs the question of whether policing sex work alongside human trafficking and internet crimes against children is misguided, especially given its purported purpose: “If the Vice division is meant to solve victim-based crimes, why is prostitution included? It’s both dangerous and offensive to conflate willing participation in the sex trade with human trafficking.”

    “Particularly troubling is the squad’s continued harassment, endangerment, and in some cases downright exploitation, of sex workers,” said Quart in an April 19 press release from Decrim NY. “For far too long NYPD Vice has been allowed to operate in the shadows, abusing its power and skirting accountability. No more.”

    The letter outlines a number of recent scandals revealing hypocrisy within the city’s police department. In September 2018, former NYPD Detective Ludwig Paz was charged with running “an expansive prostitution and gambling empire” while active duty officers, like Officer Michael Golden, have allegedly exploited women doing sex work while conducting a sting—and then proceeded to arrest them.

    According to the letter, the Legal Aid Society has reported that “their sex worker clients are often touched inappropriately, humiliated, forced into nonconsensual sexual activity, and more.”

    Beyond the contradictions in its purpose, the Vice Squad’s operations have also proven fatal for sex workers. In a case that has become central to the New York City-based decriminalization movement, Yang Song died in November 2018 while fleeing a raid on a Flushing massage parlor.

    Speaking in reference to Song’s death, assembly member Kim said in the press release, “Instead of harassing and pushing these workers to their deaths, we need to shift our entire way of addressing the core problem that these workers face everyday, which is directly tied to economic injustice.”

    “We are horrified that the police continue to raid massage parlors in the name of ‘rescuing’ sex working people.”

    For activist organizations, like Red Canary Song, that oppose the criminalization of migrant sex workers in Queens, addressing the core problem necessitates shutting down the Vice Squad altogether.

    “We are horrified that the police continue to raid massage parlors in the name of ‘rescuing’ sex working people.” said Red, an activist with Red Canary Song. “We must defund Vice.”

    The signatory politicians are headed to Albany in the 2019 session to push for legislation that enacts “the decriminalization of sex work, the erasure of prostitution records, the expansion of vacatur for trafficking survivors, and… the repeal of loitering for the purpose of prostitution.”

    “We have to accept that we are not dealing with one or two bad apples,” write the legislators. “These recurring incidents point to not only a culture of corruption and misconduct, but a consistent exploitation, endangerment, and victimization of sex workers by the NYPD.”

    vice squad investigation letter with sigs (2)

    Photograph: New York City Council

    Pictured: Ritchie Torres at a City Council meeting

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