Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


Sex work and its legal status is a controversial and divisive subject amongst feminist scholars and lawmakers alike. While sex workers are often subject to violence and discrimination simply by virtue of their labor, legal institutions designed to protect individuals from such experiences tend to exacerbate their impacts on sex workers. Sympathetic lawmakers and scholars have attempted to implement laws to the benefit of sex workers but have struggled to successfully ameliorate the harms they experience both at work and during their everyday lives. This paper attempts to explicate the ways in which purportedly beneficial laws actually work to the detriment of sex workers and how even piecemeal reforms can yield substantial improvements in sex workers’ lives. By surveying the effects that policing practices, the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, and discriminatory public housing laws in New York City have on sex workers, this paper proposes legislative reforms which would improve lives and working conditions for sex workers. An examination of these institutions reveals the need to center sex workers’ rights, perspectives, and voices alongside a shift toward a legislative philosophy of harm reduction in order to eradicate discrimination and violence against sex workers.