Following his surprise endorsement for the decriminalization of prostitution last week, Brooklyn’s top prosecutor announced Wednesday that he will not make any new policy decisions until after conducting a thorough study of the issue, in a process that he said will include meeting with advocates committed to preventing a more progressive attitude towards city sex workers.
“We’re going to hear from a lot of the other organizations, who are staunchly opposed to any form of decriminalization,” District Attorney Eric Gonzalez told reporters at a March 10 press conference.
Gonzalez announced his plan to meet with supporters for and against decriminalizing Brooklyn’s sex trade after initially endorsing the policy at an April 4 meeting of the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, where the prosecutor stated that he “believes in decriminalization” before a crowd that included Brooklyn State Senator Julia Salazar — who is championing legislative solutions to keep alleged prostitutes out of jail — along with her Senate colleague Zellnor Myrie and former sex workers turned advocates.
And while the District Attorney remains undecided on the issue of decriminalizing prostitution, Gonzalez said his real focus will remain on preventing sex trafficking and finding new ways to help victims.
“My obligation is to make sure I’m protecting children who are being sex trafficked and women who are being forced into this trade,” Gonzalez said.
The Brooklyn district attorney’s Office currently operates on a so-called “soft prosecution” policy regarding prostitution arrests, where defendants are given the opportunity to enroll in social service programs at arraignment, after which their cases are typically dismissed within a few months.
However, the district attorney’s ability to connect with sex workers may be impeded by justice reforms included in the 2020 budget that kick in next year, which require anyone charged with a misdemeanor violation — such as prostitution, solicitation, or loitering — be given a desk appearance ticket in lieu of arrest, making their first court date months, rather than days, after their initial run-in with the law, according to Gonzalez.
“People engaged in sex work and people who aren’t being arrested, the question is whether that’s the best way to get to the underlying trafficking thing,” said Gonzalez.
Brooklyn’s top prosecutor has already proven himself willing to wield his prosecutorial discretion to effectively decriminalize other misdemeanor offenses, and the DA has gradually expanded on his predecessor Ken Thompson’s policy of declining to prosecute Brooklyn arrests for marijuana possession and public smoking since taking office in 2016.