New York Metropolis’s new intercourse work coverage isn’t solely about altering morals, Noah Feldman | Columnists
Today we increasingly recognize that people who accept money for sex often have little or no choice. We recognize the realities of human trafficking and substance addiction. We are more aware of power differences based on gender, race, gender identity, and income. It seems primitive to blame those who sell sex rather than those who buy it.
Of course, Manhattan – like Baltimore and Philadelphia, which have passed similar guidelines – has not adopted the view of some activists that we should take morality altogether out of the equation and simply legalize and regulate all forms of sex work. The association between sex and morals remains strong in the new politics. But the moral calculation has changed.
However, this change in beliefs alone is unlikely to have been enough to bring about a change in policy. This required a significant reduction in the geographical importance of sex work in Manhattan. Long-time residents of the island know this story well. As recently as the 1980s, sex work, including prostitution, played an important role in the expanded Times Square economy. (The HBO series “The Deuce” wanted to capture the atmosphere of this urban phenomenon.)
Over time, aggressive policing, coupled with reconciliation and widespread development, ousted midtown sex work. As Manhattan got richer and richer in real estate in the 1980s, sex work was pushed out of other neighborhoods like the Meatpacking District as well. Eventually, sex work in Manhattan got to where it is today: peripheral and relatively invisible, rather than openly blooming in certain neighborhoods.