One bill hopes to repeal the crime of selling sex and expand social services; the other would legalize the entire sex trade.
Although incorrectly labeled the world's oldest profession, prostitution has been on the minds of lawmakers for as long as extant laws allow us to track. The Code of Hammurabi, the most complete of ancient Babylonian laws, doesn't deal with the sex trade directly but does distinguish between the inheritance rights enjoyed by "devoted women" versus prostituted women.
A few centuries later and across the Mediterranean, the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations regulated a legal sex trade depicted on frescos and black-and-red-figure vases in exotic and highly idealized terms. However, the courtesan's life was hardly a high-minded exercise in sexual liberation. Freeborn wives and daughters did not participate in the sex trade. Instead, these societies filled their brothels with slaves and infames and allowed them to suffer in abhorrent living conditions. The ashen evidence from Pompeii reveals that prostituted women and young men were immured within dark, stifling cells barely large enough to house their stone beds.
In the United States today prostitution is entirely illegal, save for a few counties in the state of Nevada. Yet, trafficking persists across the country. One study from the Field Center for Children's Policy, University of Pennsylvania, interviewed vulnerable youths across 13 cities and found that roughly a fifth were victims of sex trafficking. Many said they were approached for paid sexual acts during their first night of homelessness.
Opponents of the full-criminalization model argue that these regulations only aggravate such problems, driving prostituted people further underground, where harm and violence may be inflicted upon them without recourse. In recent decades, European countries have introduced new prostitution laws, leading U.S. advocates to raise their voices for decriminalization. And two new bills introduced in the New York State Senate hope to make that change.
The Equality Model asks, criminal or victim?
Advocates stand outside a courthouse to protest Ghislaine Maxwell, former girlfriend to Jeffrey Epstein, for her role in his sex-trafficking ring.
Credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images
The most recent of the two is the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act. Set to be introduced by Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan, the law would repeal the crime of prostitution in the state but would maintain punitive measures against buyers and pimps. The penalty for buying sex, for example, would be a sliding-scale fine based on income. The bill also aims to strengthen laws against trafficking and eliminate the so-called ignorance defense, which affords buyers legal cover if they did not have "reasonable grounds" to assume their victim was underage.
The Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act is based on the Equality Model, first introduced in Sweden in 1999. Under the Swedish Sex Purchase Act, the country decriminalized prostitution and began targeting buyers and suppliers with the goal of lowering demand. As demand decreased, the thinking went, Sweden would witness a subsequent reduction in violence, trafficking, and the trauma associated so strongly with the illicit sex trade. And a 2008 report did find that the strategy manifested some of those goals.
After the law's introduction, costs increased, fewer men sought to purchase sex, and the number of women in street prostitution halved—though the burgeoning internet scene likely influenced that metric as much as the law.
As for Sweden's prostituted population, the report was mixed. Fears of the law driving prostitution further underground weren't realized, nor did the risks of physical abuse or dangerous living conditions increase. However, while people who sought to leave the life favored the law, those who wished to stay in the trade denigrated it for hyping the social stigma.
After the report's release, countries such as Norway, Iceland, Canada, and Israel adopted the Equality Model, and today, many U.S. advocacy groups champion for states to institute similar laws.
"We who have been in the human-trafficking policy movement for a long time have been advocating for years that people in prostitution should not be criminalized for their exploitation," Alexi Meyers, director of anti-trafficking policy at Sanctuary for Families, told Big Think in an interview discussing the New York bill. "It's the only law where the victim is arrested. Instead of handcuffs, [people in prostitution] need services, need housing, need support."
Critically, the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act does more than decriminalize prostitution. It also bolsters social services such as housing, job training, and mental health care. To help finance these services, money collected by the aforementioned buyer fine will go into a victim-compensation fund. The bill also expands protections for minors arrested under safe harbor and would vacate victims' prior convictions so they could more easily find jobs.
"When someone has had no family support, have been abused their entire lives, and they haven't gotten the services they need, at the age of 18, they haven't magically transformed from a victim of trafficking into a consenting adult," Jayne Bigelsen, vice president of advocacy for Covenant House, New York, said in our interview.
Bigelsen grants that not everyone engaged in the commercial sex trade may view themselves as a victim, but she notes that a large portion of the population remains vulnerable nonetheless. To treat such people as criminals, as so many contemporary laws do, does no one any favors. The fear of arrest actively discourages victims from seeking an "off-ramp" to the life and strengthens the coercive hold their pimps and traffickers maintain on them.
"[The law helps] reframe the understanding that this is not a crime. It is a form of gender-based violence and exploitation. I think, over time, people will have a greater understanding of that," Bigelsen adds.
Prostitution, an occupation like any other?
Sex workers in Amsterdam's famous red-light district, where window prostitution is permitted.
Credit: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
But critics of the Equality Model believe it's disguised paternalism that robs women of the right to choose. Worse, they argue, it further stigmatizes sex workers within society and drives the sex trade further underground, where exploitation and violence can continue to fester from prying eyes.
A second New York Senate bill, currently in committee, would decriminalize the entire sex trade within the state. Called the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, the bill would keep penal laws related to minors and sex trafficking but would make sex work between consenting adults a legal, regulated trade.
"Sex work is work and should not be criminalized by the state," Senator Julia Salazar, who introduced the bill, stated in a press release. "Our current policies only empower traffickers and others who benefit from keeping sex work in the shadows. New York State needs to listen to sex workers and make these common-sense reforms to keep sex workers safe and empower sex workers in their workplaces."
Like the Sex Trade Survivors Justice & Equality Act, Salazar's bill draws inspiration from European laws, namely those from the Netherlands and Germany. Both countries legalized the sex trade a few years after Sweden introduced its Equality Model—though laws and regulations vary between the countries and even districts within them. For example, Germany has passed a law that requires any business offering sex services to apply for a permit "that will only be granted if health, hygiene and room requirements are met," while Amsterdam limits window prostitution to specific city zones.
Full-decriminalization advocates hope such laws will facilitate freedom of choice, access to social services, improved health and working conditions, and the decoupling of the occupation from criminal enterprises. They also argue that full decriminalization closes the unintended consequences created by the Equality Model.
An Amnesty International report notes that in Norway, sex workers are routinely evicted from their homes because landlords fear rental agreements will expose them to prosecution for promoting sex. Similar liability concerns deter third parties, such as security, from working with sex workers, too. As a result, sex workers themselves may not be prosecuted but their lives are no less secure nor more firmly established within society.
"What we have isn't working. The current model of criminalizing sex work traps sex workers and trafficking survivors in cycles of violence. The new proposed legislation referred to as the 'Equality Model' conflates sex work with sex trafficking, using the logic of broken windows policing to address trafficking by targeting sex workers," writes the advocacy group Decrim NY.
New York State to lead decriminalization
Of course, Equality Model advocates have their arguments against full decriminalization. Even in countries that have legalized prostitution, the sex trade retains strong ties to criminal activities. Prostituted women continue to be viewed as pariah—or, in the case of Amsterdam, tourist attractions. And like the legal sex trades of the ancient world, contemporary examples have witnessed a surge in human trafficking to meet the demand. More often than not, poor women from poor countries.
"If you decriminalize people who buy sex, you're removing any legal barriers or social barriers, and the number of people who buy sex will exponentially increase, and you'll have to fill that new, legal demand with supply. And that supply is human bodies, and there aren't enough willing participants to fulfill that need. That's when trafficking occurs," Alexi Myers said.
A report commissioned by Germany's Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth looked into the effects of the country's 2001 law. It found the intended impacts to be lacking. According to the report, the Prostitution Act did not create measurable improvements on social protection, working conditions, reduced crime, or the means for leaving the business. The report did assuage some fears, however, by finding that legalization did not make it more difficult to prosecute sex traffickers or related violence when they occurred.
All told, data will never point to a perfect solution to this or any social concern. In the case of prostitution, emotions and moral instinct run at the redline. Often, the solution one proposes comes down to one's answer of this question: What is prostitution? Is it a violation of another human's rights and dignity? An occupation like any other? Or a moral offense old as the law itself?
Whatever your answer, you'll likely find current U.S. law lacking. It's for this reason that many states are reanalyzing and revamping their prostitution laws to protect victims, usually with more robust safe harbor laws. Whichever law New York State chooses, its successes and failures will likely serve as a bellwether for the United States moving forward.
If confirmed, that's 10 times the official number of infected New Yorkers.
- It may be that many more unsymptomatic New Yorkers have encountered COVID-19 and fought it off.
- If this is true, the death rate may be lower than currently believed.
- Andrew Cuomo presented these early findings with the caveat that the study hasn't been completed or published yet.
We don't really know how many people have or have not been infected by coronavirus. Insufficient testing has left us largely flying blind, though there's been a general suspicion among experts that the disease's incidence is substantially underreported in what data there is.
On April 22, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described the preliminary findings of a new series of tests his state is conducting. The tests seek to identify asymptomatic individuals who are carrying antibodies that indicate they've fought off COVID-19 or are currently doing so. So far — and there's much more testing to be done — 13.9% of people tested positive for antibodies. That would suggest some 2.7 million New Yorkers have encountered the coronavirus. That's 10 times the official tally. In New York City, the results are even higher — 21.2% of people tested have the antibodies.
This could mean that the coronavirus has asymptomatically moved through a larger chunk of the population than previously known, and that the death rate may thus be much less than previously thought.
Cuomo’s and others' comments on the report
Image source: State of New York
Cuomo discussed the report's initial findings at a press conference. Since the study is ongoing, and the report itself not yet made available, his comments are the best information we have so far.
Said Cuomo, "We're going to continue this testing on a rolling basis. We'll have a larger and larger sample. But I want to see snapshots of what is happening with that rate. Is it going up? Is it flat? Is it going down? And [the antibody study] can really give us data to make decisions."
Not everyone is convinced of the study's value. NYC Health, for example, has raised warnings regarding the potential for false positives and negatives, and cites the remaining "void" in our knowledge of COVID-19.
The tests were developed by New York State's Wadsworth Center lab, which asserts that it's 93-100% effective at differentiating the current coronavirus from previous infections. However, the lab has not publicly rated its efficiency, or sensitivity, at delivering accurate positives.
On top of that, it's always a good idea to resist drawing conclusions too quickly from any single study, and especially from one whose findings are so preliminary. Speaking with NBC News, Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage cautions, "There's a risk of really serious misinterpretation here." Nonetheless, "the most basic conclusion — that quite a large number of people may have been infected and are not turning up in the official case counts — that's extremely plausible and something we have been suspecting all along."
Image source: State of New York
Blood tests were administered to 3,000 people across the state — in 40 locations and 19 counties — as they shopped at grocery and big-box stores. There's therefore a certain degree of pre-selection in the sample so far. For example, people too ill or otherwise infirm to be out and about are not included in its results. This is one of the report's limitations and a reason to wait before jumping to too many conclusions regarding its data.
"These are people who were out and about shopping," noted Cuomo. "They were not people who were in their homes. They were not people who were isolated. They were not people who were quarantined."
The results so far also reflect the disproportionate impact of coronavirus of people of color. Statewide, 22.8% of multiracial individuals tested positive for the antibody, as well as 22% of both African-Americans and Latinos.
The most popular books of the past 125 years, and where to get them.
- New York Public library is celebrating its 125th birthday in 2020. With over 90 locations across New York City's boroughs, it is the nation's largest public library system.
- Based on circulation data, popularity, trends, and other criteria dating back to 1895, these books are considered the library's most checked-out titles of all time.
- "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats was checked out 485,583 times and takes the top spot, but one librarian's hatred of another book may have robbed it of the crown.
This year marks the 125th birthday of the New York Public Library. Millions of books have been borrowed from the library's numerous branches around the city since 1895, but some timeless classics have been thumbed through and enjoyed more than others. For its quasquicentennial celebration, the library has shared a list of the ten books that card holders just couldn't get enough of.
"The books on this list have transcended generations and, much like the Library itself, are as relevant today as they were when they first arrived," said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx in a statement. "This list tells us something about New Yorkers over the last 125 years — what moves them, what excites them, what stands the test of time."
Determining which books were the most popular wasn't as simple as checking a computer file. A team of experts reviewed checkout and circulation data, reading trends, the length of the books, the length of time they have been in print and in the catalog, school lists, and the awards and special recognitions that the books have received.
You should find as many ways as you can to support your local library. Add these books to your borrow list now, or if you can't stand the wait, buy a copy of your own.
Published in 1962, this Caldecott Award-winning children's book tells the story of a Black boy named Peter exploring his city after the first snowfall of the season. Keats' book has since been translated into 10 different languages, has appeared on postage stamps, and has been adapted into an animated Christmas special. It tops the list with 485,583 checkouts.
Limited edition NYPL library cards featuring Keats' cover illustration are now available for eligible residents.
In the number two spot with 469,650 checkouts is Dr. Seuss's iconic book about a tall feline who talks and visits two children on a rainy day while their mother is away. Originally published in 1957, the book has spawned animated and live-action film adaptations, games, theme park rides, and lots of merchandise and licensed apparel. You can now read about Thing One and Thing Two in 17 languages.
Published in 1949, this novel (set in the imagined 1984 of the future) has become synonymous with the idea of a dystopian society. Checked out 441,770 times from New York Public Library, Orwell's book is a staple in classrooms and widely considered one of the most influential books of all time.
This picture book from 1963 was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. After misbehaving and being sent to bed without dinner, Max is transported to a jungle with other "wild things." He becomes their king but eventually misses his family and returns home. There are only 388 words in the book, but the great story and even greater artwork inspired parents and young readers to check the book out 436,016 times in New York.
Another staple on reading lists around the country, this Pulitzer Prize winning book by Harper Lee has been seen as both a masterpiece and as a text worth banning. Dealing with themes of racial injustice and classism, the book is set in a small town in Alabama where a Black man has been falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. NYPL patrons have read the story of Scout, Atticus, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley 422,912 times since it was published in 1960.
An artistic spider and an exceptional pig navigate the harsh realities of farm life and of mortality in this 1952 novel by E.B. White. If you haven't read the book, chances are you've seen the animated film that was released 21 years later in 1973. Around 337,948 readers have picked this one up so far, so maybe it's time for you to join them in the adventure.
Burning books is bad, but reading a classic novel about burning books is good. This highly awarded title was first published in 1953 and has stood the test of time, as more young readers discover it in school and older readers revisit its McCarthy era themes of censorship and freedom of thought. "Fahrenheit 451" has been checked out 316,404 times, according to NYPL.
One of the best-selling self-help titles of all time, this book by Dale Carnegie was published way back in 1936. Friend seekers are apparently still finding wisdom in its pages, because it has been borrowed from the library system over 284,524 times. What advice does Carnegie give? You'll have to grab a copy to find out.
The first of seven books in the wildly successful series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (née Philosopher's Stone) is still J.K. Rowling's best-selling work, so the fact that it has been checked out 231,022 times is not surprising. Overall, the series has sold over 500 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 80 languages.
At only 22 pages long, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is the shortest book on the list but perhaps the most vibrant. Eric Carle's illustrations of a caterpillar and its delicious environment have crawled out of the library at least 189,550 times in New York and millions more at other libraries and bookstores around the world. If you don't already own it, grab a copy now.
There was one really interested asterisk to the NYPL list that is worth sharing. It turns out, the personal tastes of one librarian kept the 1947 book "Goodnight Moon" from appearing on library shelves for nearly three decades, which undoubtedly skewed its circulation numbers. The library explains:
By all measures, this book should be a top checkout (in fact, it might be the top checkout) if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children's librarian Anne Carroll Moore hated "Goodnight Moon" when it first came out. As a result, the Library didn't carry it until 1972.
When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
Twain and Tesla had similar passions and an amusing friendship.
- Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Nikola Tesla shared a friendship starting in 1890s.
- Tesla read a lot of early Twain when recovering from a serious illness.
- The two shared an interest in electricity.
Having famous friends can be both a blessing and a burden in our oversaturated media age. But about a hundred years ago, it could be quite fun to hang out with brilliant minds and discuss earth-shattering ideas. And no friendship is perhaps any more curious than the one between the legendary American writer Mark Twain and one of the most iconoclastic minds ever - Nikola Tesla.
By many accounts, Mark Twain was fascinated by technology and electricity, in particular. Visiting New York in the 1890s, he became friends with Nikola Tesla, who had an interest in Mark Twain, having read some of his early works when he was recovering from a life-threatening illness in the 1870s. That's before he emigrated to the United States. The books were instrumental in Tesla's recovery, according to the scientist himself, who said the stories by Twain were "so captivating as to make me utterly forget my hopeless state."
In Tesla's Lab. 1894. Mark Twain holds Tesla's vacuum lamp, powered by a loop of wire that gets electromagnetic energy from a Tesla coil. Tesla's face is in the background.
Tesla got to explain this to Twain 25 years later, when they met, bringing the writer to tears.
While the life-saving power of Twain's words and their imaginations may have been the secret sauce behind the friendship, another factor that drew them together was simply money. Twain, or Samuel Clemens as was his real name, invested in new tech, including an electrical motor in the 1880s. This fact made Tesla's name known to Twain, who'd been hearing about the motor Tesla invented for Westinghouse. As historian Juliana Adelman wrote for Irish Times, Tesla actually advised Twain against investing into a motor created by James W. Paige – an advice the famous writer didn't heed, losing a large sum of money on Paige's mechanical typesetter.
In the end, Twain did think Tesla's motor design was superior and was a frequent visitor in the inventor's lab, even taking part in experiments. A number of photographs are testament to these fascinating interactions.
In Tesla's lab. 1894. Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943, blurred at centre) is in the midst of an electrical experiment with writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain (1835 – 1910, left) and actor Joseph Jefferson (1829 – 1905).
Photo: Kostich/FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images
One well-known story about Clemens is that Tesla cured the writer's constipation. The author of "Tom Sawyer" took part in an experiment where he spent a considerable amount of time on an electromechanical oscillator, which generated high-frequency alternating current and featured a vibrating plate. It was also known as the "earthquake" machine for its shaking and noise.
Tesla believed it could be medically helpful to Twain, who was known to have digestive problems. Vibrations could help with constipation is how some accounts describe Tesla's reasoning. The writer apparently did enjoy the machine for a few minutes until it started to behave like a laxative, sending him off to the restroom.
The friendship between the two titans also included Twain's invitations for Tesla to join the Players Club in 1888 and to attend the wedding of Twain's daughter.
The American Museum of Natural History presents the new, more accurate T. rex.
- Hatchling, four-year-old, and adult models show us new sides of the famous predator.
- They're part of the T. rex: The Ultimate Predator exhibit running from March 2019 to August 2020.
- Attention time travelers: You may want to pet the feathered hatchling. Don't.
There's no doubt that the adult Tyrannosaurus Rex was a fearsome predator, with a powerful bite that could cause the head of a victim to explode from sheer force. Of course, much of what we've longed "known" about T. rex is informed speculation based on incomplete information. However, paleontologists at New York's American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) are about to unveil the result of a remarkable project.
They've constructed stunning models of the T. rex as a hatchling, as a four-year-old, and as an adult based on the latest discoveries and thinking. Their intent is to provide the most scientifically accurate renderings ever of the T. rex as part of their "T. rex: The Ultimate Predator"exhibit running from March 11, 2019 to August 9, 2020.
The biggest surprise? The hatchling. Who ever thought a T. rex could be so, well, crazy-cute!?
Latest fossil discoveries
Image source: AMNH/AMNH / R. Peterson
As more fossils are discovered, we learn more and more about the Tyrannosauroidea family. The first discovery of a feathered dinosaur, the Sinosauropteryx prima in 1996, suggested we might've been picturing the ancient creatures, including T. rex, incorrectly. More recent discoveries such as the Yutyrannus huali have only bolstered this suspicion. In addition, archeologists have begun finding infant Tyrannousaur fossils, and this has allowed the team at the AMNH, led by Mark Norell, to realistically imagine T. rex at three life stages for the "Ultimate Predator" exhibit.
Not all Tyrannosaurs were T. rexes — there were dozens of Tyrannosaur species, and no others were as large. The "Ultimate Predator" show includes a number of them, including the Dilong paradoxus. Most were about the size of a T. rex youngster as adults. They were all, however, all dangerous predators — and the AMNH exhibit will feature new representations of a variety of family members. Most Tyrannousaurs were fast runners, unlike the adolescent and adult T. rex, a slower-moving death machine. (The hatchling ran.)
There's still a fair amount of conjecture involved, but between what's visible in the fossil record and what can be seen today in T. rex's living relatives, there's little doubt that experts are growing ever-closer to a complete understanding of these creatures who last roamed the earth some 68 million years ago. A lot can be inferred from these familial connections, including feeding and parenting behaviors and various as-yet-unknown physical features. For example, fossilized T. rex footprints are nearly identical to the modern emu, albeit bigger, and so inferences can be made about their feet.
Speaking of skin, contrary to the traditional belief that T. rex's skin was akin to a contemporary lizard's or snake's, experts now suspect it was actually a more leathery covering, similar to that of the foot of a chicken or the leg of a turtle.
The new AMNH models reflect the latest theories regarding every minute details of their physiognomy.
The hatchling T. rex
Image source: AMNH/D. Finnin
About 60 percent of T. rex hatchlings — about the size of turkeys — probably didn't survive to their first birthday. The downy-feathered tykes grew quickly, though, about 140 pounds a month, but it still took until they were about 20 to reach full size. Experts believe that they were quick little predators with lots of tiny, needle-like teeth. Like modern Komodo dragons, they probably fed on insects and smaller vertebrates before maturing into their grownup fare.
The four-year-old T. rex
By the time T. rex was around four, it was as big as other non-rex Tyrannosaurs. (AMNH says this is about five times the size of a four-year-old human boy.) It was fully feathered, with teeth good for slicing and cutting as opposed to crushing, the speciality of the adult T. rex. At this stage, T. rex also had long arms — it's believed they stopped growing prior to reaching full size, resulting in the oddly teeny arms of the adult T. rex.
Adult T. rex
Even scarier than before? Image source: AMNH/D. Finnin
This is the terrifying bad boy — or girl — we know and fear, albeit likely with more feathers than you might have once thought. The monster was up to 40 feet long, and weighed between 11,000 and 15,500 pounds.
T. rex's banana-shaped teeth and mighty jaws could clamp down with 7,800 pounds of force — that's about the weight of three cars. It was one of very few creatures ever to be capable of pulverizing and digesting the solid bone of prey. (30–50 percent of T. rex coprolites, fossilized poop, is actually crushed bone.)
If that wasn't enough, we now know that T. rex senses were super-sharp. Orange-sized eyes faced forward, hawk-like, and were set far enough apart that T. rex had great depth vision. Examination of its brain casings suggests an exceptional sense of smell and of hearing, too.
The new exhibit has a shadow-theater floor projection of one of these nightmares coming to life.
If you're fortunate enough to visit the AMNH for the T. rex: The Ultimate Predator exhibit, you'll have the opportunity to get up close and personal — safely — with T. rex.
- They'll have a definitive life-sized model of an adult T. rex, replete with patches of feathers.
- There will be several hatchling reconstructions, as well as a four-year-old T. rex.
- A "roar mixer" will allow visitors to construct their own T. rex roars by combining the vocalization of related animals.
- You can wander through an interactive Cretaceous environment.
- Dig in at a fossil "investigation station" with all the tools a paleontologist could want: a CT scanner, measuring tools, and a microscope.