Manhattan decriminalizes prostitution and kidnapped asylum seekers

in April 30th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of April 30, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

Dam it! Beavers are behind the recent loss of internet service in one Canadian town. Residents lost access for 12 hours after crews found a nearby dam where beavers had chewed through fiber cable at multiple points, despite being buried roughly three feet underground and protected by 4.5 inch conduit. While the 900 affected users are probably debating their affection for these adorable pests, we took their lead and dug through our (news) wires.


Why Manhattan’s partial decriminalization of sex work concerns advocates

Wed Apr 21

Good news for sex workers in Manhattan: selling such services is no longer criminal. Bad news: this might further jeopardize their safety. The city will no longer prosecute people on “prostitution” and “unlicensed massage,” resulting in the dismissal of 914 open cases — some dating as far back as the 1970s. Instead, the city will focus its efforts on those who buy sexual services (instead of those who sell them), a model that has existed in Sweden since 1999. 

But advocates argue the best way to protect these workers is to decriminalize the industry altogether. Many worry a focus on just buyers can even lead to greater safety issues. How?

  • To get to buyers, enforcement goes through the sellers. This leads buyers to require sellers to meet them in unusual locations to avoid police interference, placing sex workers in unsafe, isolated locations.
  • Partial decriminalization increases the potential for violence by encouraging sellers to take greater risks to protect buyers. But with full decriminalization, such as in Rhode Island between 2003 and 2009, reported rapes decreased 31%.
  • Decriminalization would also lead to more condom use. Workers say they fear carrying the contraceptive as police often arrest women who do, citing it as evidence. In the same Rhode Island study, the overall population saw a nearly 40% decrease in cases of female gonorrhea. So far, California and New York City have banned condoms as evidence of sex work.

Overall, the U.S. is far behind other countries — despite protests for worker protections dating back as early as 1917. New Zealand decriminalized sex work in 2003, an approach Amnesty International recommended for all countries 13 years later. While some areas of Australia and some counties in Nevada have led the charge on decriminalization, country-wide adoption has been slow.  

Some additional resources...→ For more on the recent progress in Manhattan, turn to Vice.

  • For past coverage on sex work advocacy and legislation efforts, turn to Vox and U.S. News.
  • For more on sex worker safety, turn to SWARM.


Asylum seekers kidnapped en route to late night border hearings

Sat Apr 24

Imagine waiting months for potential freedom, only to be kidnapped the day of. That’s the harsh reality of thousands of asylum seekers who end up missing their scheduled hearings at the Mexican border. In fact, over 40% of the 68,000 migrants during the Trump era had their cases closed (and are banned from reopening for 10 years) for not showing up to their meetings as a result of… 

  • Being kidnapped and held hostage by cartel groups who then sell them for ransom to their families for thousands of dollars.
  • Getting detained by Mexican officials, who say they’re “assisting” — aka deporting — Central American migrants.
  • Medical emergencies due to the conditions in which they’re waiting, with some families reporting over a year and a half in neglected, temporary housing for their appointments.
  • And simply not finding a safe way to the border now that U.S. officials are scheduling them for 3:30 in the morning, including for women and children, in the murder capital of the world (Tijuana).

Many believe these middle-of-the-night arrival times are intentional. While the U.S. argues it’s simply to allow for processing time, many who have safely arrived claim they’re not called on until 6 a.m or later with hearings starting at 8 a.m. Those who’ve tried to help have found themselves targeted, such as one pastor providing transport to immigrant families and asylum seekers, who received threats from cartel leaders in response. Other advocates have been kidnapped themselves for their volunteer work. 

And the problems have not lessened during the Biden administration so far, who promised change during his campaign. While he ended “Remain in Mexico,” a policy forcing migrants to wait in the country until their hearing (therefore making them easy prey for extortion, sex-trafficking, and kidnapping), Title 42 continues. Aside from expulsion to the countries from which they fled persecution and torture, many non-Mexican Black, Brown, and Indigenous asylum seekers are also being sent to the dangerous border regions of Mexico, where they face discrimination and greater violence. In fact in just the last four months, nearly 500 asylum seekers have been attacked or kidnapped. 

Some additional resources... 

  • For the recent story on these kidnappings, turn to the Washington Post.
  • For more on what has or hasn’t changed under the current presidency as well as Title 42, turn to Vice and Huffington Post
  • For more on Trump-era migration, turn to Mother Jones or NPR

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