Reviews | Don’t completely decriminalize sex work

For the publisher:

Re “Only complete decriminalization will help sex workers”, by Cecilia Gentili (guest opinion essay, October 18):

I am a transgender woman and a survivor of the sex trade who, like Ms. Gentili, has been forced into prostitution due to economic coercion. However, I strongly disagree that expanding the rights of pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers will keep women like us safe.

When I started my gender transition, circumstances forced me to prostitute myself in order to survive. The sex buyers dehumanized me and treated me like a fetish and a commodity. The pimps threatened me. I wanted to quit prostitution, but like most prostitutes, I couldn’t.

“Total decriminalization,” or what we call the “operating model,” throws our fate into the hands of the free market and under the control of a multibillion dollar industry that puts profit before people. This untenable “solution” would only exacerbate the problem and offer no exit service.

There is a better way. The “equality model” decriminalizes those exploited in prostitution and provides exit services. And he still holds pimps, brothel owners, and sex buyers accountable. Expanding the rights of those who profit and benefit from our exploitation will not make us more secure. Decriminalize those exploited in prostitution, not the people who exploit them.

Esperanza Fonseca
North Hollywood, California

For the publisher:

At Covenant House, we sympathize very much with Cecilia Gentili’s experience of being abused as a sex worker when she was just trying to survive. That’s why Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless young adults, supports the Sex Work Survivors Justice and Equality Act, which would ensure that no one is arrested for selling sex to New York.

However, Ms. Gentili’s advocacy efforts to completely decriminalize prostitution, including for clients and promoters, go too far and put vulnerable young adults at risk. Already, the recent public message that prostitution is a victimless crime has led to an increase in the number of pimps waiting on the streets of our Covenant House shelter, preying on our most vulnerable young people.

Decriminalization further encourages pimps to attract primarily black and brown youth in poverty, LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out of their homes, those who have aged in foster care, and homeless youth. Our goal should be to protect these young people, to raise them and to help them pursue the great promise of their lives.

The bill Ms. Gentili supports, Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades, will gut New York’s anti-trafficking laws and encourage travelers from all over 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.

For the publisher:

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

Judith Hurd
Bernalillo, New Mexico

For the publisher:

Re “Brink’s Robbery Participant, Now 77, Is Granted Parole” (press article, October 27):

David Gilbert’s granting of parole by the New York State Parole Board should be hailed as a welcome example of his 40 years of rehabilitation being recognized.

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

People change over time. Our criminal justice system must also change. The impact of mass incarceration needs to be addressed and corrected, especially for communities of color and the families of those imprisoned. This parole grant to David Gilbert, who has a proven track record of non-violence and helping and mentoring others who are in prison, should be celebrated.

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

For the publisher:

Re “University degrees are overvalued”, by Peter Coy (Opinion,, October 18):

Mr. Coy’s claim may be all the rage in some circles. But this is simply not true, and it does a disservice to those considering the many post-secondary education pathways available.

Income and job security are almost perfectly correlated with college education. Whatever measure of social well-being demographers can conceive of, 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 draws a false dichotomy between getting a college degree and preparing for work. Employers value the critical thinking skills fostered by a liberal arts degree. There are low cost community colleges and their many career oriented programs. And there’s 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 doesn’t necessarily mean professional success and high income, but it is usually the way to go.

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

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