Dorchen Leidholdt is the Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center.
I am not on Twitter but understand from friends and colleagues who are that a number of accusations have been made against me over the last 24 hours. First and foremost, I want to make it clear that I had nothing to do with the police presence at last night’s panel discussion about the Gottfried/Salazar/Ramos bill to fully decriminalize the sex industry in New York.
Far from being a proponent of the carceral state, I began my legal career as a criminal defense attorney for the Legal Aid Society. For six years I advocated zealously on behalf of hundreds of criminal defendants. Many had survived egregious gender violence only to be revictimized by the criminal justice system, often by being arrested for prostitution or loitering for purposes of prostitution.
My advocacy against such misuse of the criminal justice system continued when I joined Sanctuary for Families, where I represent defendants and incarcerated people and advocate for criminal justice reform. My work on behalf of an incarcerated woman who killed her abuser and was wrongfully convicted of his murder led to my co-founding the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivor Initiative, which I co-chair.
For decades I have advocated against the arrest and prosecution of people in the sex industry for prostitution and loitering for prostitution. I joined forces with the attorneys bringing the constitutional challenge against “loitering for prostitution,” and I helped lead Sanctuary’s efforts to pass the bill that would strike loitering from the NYS penal code. Sanctuary is currently advocating for two additional bills – one would amend New York’s rape shield law to protect people with prostitution convictions; the second would enable trafficking survivors to apply for vacatur relief for all criminal convictions.
Those who organized and spoke at last night’s event have significant common ground with those who protested it.
Effecting meaningful criminal justice reform requires ending the longstanding over-use and misuse of the criminal justice system while ensuring that those who have suffered racism, economic inequality, and gender-based discrimination and violence obtain the criminal justice protection they have long been denied. I hope that in the future we can unite to work to achieve these crucially important goals.