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Anti-human trafficking coalition hosts roundtable discussion on decriminalizing prostitution

Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News
Melanie Blow, left, and Celia McIntosh, right, of the Rochester Regional Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition flank guests of the roundtable discussion.

Legislators and local law enforcement joined an anti-human trafficking coalition in Rochester on Friday for a roundtable discussion about proposals to decriminalize prostitution in New York state. 

Melanie Blow with Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking said she believes that full decriminalization of prostitution would increase instances of human trafficking.

“This is a very, very complicated issue, this is a very nuanced issue, so to educate elected officials, to educate the public, we wanted to have an in-depth conversation about this,” Blow said.

Human trafficking includes both labor trafficking and sex trafficking.

There are several proposals that state lawmakers are debating to decriminalize prostitution. Those in favor say it’s necessary in order to protect sex workers, and it won’t affect laws against human trafficking.

But City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot said that if prostitution were decriminalized, it wouldn’t help in the fight against human trafficking.

“I don’t see decriminalizing being the answer because at the end of the day, it’s not really changing what’s happening in our community,” he says.

Lightfoot added that he believes human trafficking may be a bigger issue in Rochester than people may think.

“We could ride down Main Street, if you will, and don’t realize that there are people in buildings that are being held against their will," he said. "I think we run into people in the grocery store and the mall, and we don’t even realize how they’re living or the type of situation they’re in.”

Credit Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News
City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot says that the city needs to be proactive in combating human trafficking and get to the cause rather than address the symptoms alone.

The coalition's Celia McIntosh said labor trafficking also needs to be addressed.

“We really need to expand a task force for labor trafficking here in Rochester so we can start advocating for that service,” McIntosh said.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Twenty years ago, Congress signed a law making it a federal crime to traffic another person.

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