United States: Pass the Trafficking Victims Protection & Justice Act in New York

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Date: 
12 May 2014
Update: 

19 MARCH 2015 UPDATE: Success at last! On 16 March, the New York State Assembly passed the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA), following a unanimous 12 January passage in the Senate. The historic legislation now sits with Governor Cuomo to be signed into law.

The TVPJA, which Equality Now and our partners in the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition campaigned on for two years, will address gaps in the law that treat girls trafficked into the commercial sex industry as criminals, while rarely holding pimps and buyers accountable.  As emphasized by bill co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, “New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims with young women being sexually exploited in all regions of the state, urban, suburban and rural.”

The legislation specifically creates new crimes of aggravated patronizing a minor for prostitution; aligns the penalties for patronizing a minor with those of statutory rape; eliminates the stigmatizing term “prostitute” from the New York Penal Law; and establishes sex trafficking as an affirmative defense to prostitution.  It also provides law enforcement with the tools they need to convict the criminals and addresses the financial and emotional needs of the young victims.

Equality Now and our partners congratulate Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Andrew Lanza for their incredible work in ensuring passage of this bill, and the numerous survivors who made sure that their voices were heard throughout the process.

8 JULY 2014 UPDATE – During the spring legislative session, Equality Now, trafficking survivors and our partners twice traveled to Albany to meet with members of the New York State legislature and urge them to pass the TVPJA, as well as to raise awareness of human trafficking and the need to reform New York laws. While the bill unanimously passed in the Senate, unfortunately, it did not pass the Assembly once again due to larger political issues. However, we remain optimistic that the bill will ultimately be passed and continue to work with our partners and trafficking survivors to advocate for the reform of New York’s anti-trafficking laws. Thank you to all of our supporters who joined us in calling on New York to better protect victims of trafficking and hold sex buyers, pimps and traffickers accountable!

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Bella was raised in New York and when she was only 12 years old, her 33-year-old cousin raped her. Two years later, she ran away from home and met a man who acted like her boyfriend but turned out to be a pimp. Using physical and mental abuse, he manipulated her into selling her body to strangers for money and forced her to give him half of the money she earned. Bella was eventually arrested for running away from home, but the police didn’t arrest her pimp or those who exploited her. Fortunately, the judge arranged for her to stay at Gateways, a Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) intensive residential treatment program for commercially sexually exploited youth. Thanks to the support and treatment she received there, Bella has rebuilt her self-esteem and is overcoming her trauma.

There are countless girls like Bella who are trafficked for commercial sex in New York and treated like criminals, yet the pimps and buyers of these girls are rarely held accountable. In order to address gaps in the law, Equality Now is campaigning with the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition for passage of the New York Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA) during the current legislative session, ending 19 June.

Last year, with your advocacy support, New York came very close to passing the TVPJA in full and with an extra strong push now we can ensure the State does not continue to fail children who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Currently, a person who buys a minor for sex receives a lower penalty than someone convicted of raping a minor of the same age. To compound this, someone who buys sex from a minor is afforded the defense that “he did not know the victim was a child”; no such defense exists for other forms of child abuse. New York also allows trafficking survivors to be further victimized by the criminal justice system by prosecuting them for prostitution-related offenses, without allowing them the defense that they were trafficked or compelled into prostitution.

New York must do better. Full passage of the TVPJA would ensure that:

  • Individuals convicted of buying sex from minors face the same penalties as those charged with statutory rape and, like accused statutory rapists, those accused of engaging in sex with minors cannot avail themselves of the defense that they didn’t know the age of the child;
  • Penalties against those who pimp minors will be strengthened;
  • Trafficking survivors arrested for prostitution can use the affirmative defense that they were trafficked within the meaning of state or federal law;
  • Prosecutors will be able to wiretap pimps;
  • The stigmatizing word “prostitute” – the only word in the New York Penal Law identifying someone by the crime he or she allegedly committed – is replaced with the phrase “person for prostitution.”

By implementing these measures, New York’s law enforcement would have better tools to target and arrest the pimps and buyers who are supporting this multi-billion dollar trafficking industry – instead of focusing their resources on arresting victims such as Bella.

Trafficking victims can’t wait. Please Take Action today and help us pass the TVPJA before the legislative session ends on 19 June!

What You Can Do: 
  • Write the government officials below and urge them to pass the TVPJA during the June 2014 legislative session;
  • If you live in New York, contact your district’s legislators and ask them to pass the TVPJA. Click on these links to find your Assemblyperson or Senator;
  • Visit Equality Now’s campaign, Survivor Stories, which showcases survivor voices and leadership in the anti-trafficking movement.

Letters should go to:

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Email: gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us
Social media links:
Twitter: @NYGovCuomo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GovernorAndrewCuomo

Speaker Sheldon Silver
Speaker of the New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building, Room 932
Albany, NY 12248
Email: speaker@assembly.state.ny.us

Senator Jeffrey D. Klein
Temporary President and Majority Coalition Leader of the New York State Senate
Legislative Office Building, Room 913
Albany, NY 12247
Email: jdklein@senate.state.ny.us
Social media links:
Twitter: @JeffKleinNY
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jeffrey.d.klein

Letters: 

Dear Governor Cuomo, Speaker Silver, Senator Klein:

I am writing to request your support of the New York Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA, Paulin/Lanza A.2240D/ S.5879B) and urge its passage during the June 2014 legislative session. According to the New York Office of Child and Family Services, thousands of children are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation in New York annually, yet the sellers and buyers of these children are rarely held accountable.

New York must do better to protect girls and women from trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Please pass the TVPJA so that penalties for buying sex from a minor are aligned with those for statutory rape; that persons accused of engaging in sex with minors cannot use the defense they did not know the age of the child; that penalties against those who pimp minors will be strengthened; that prosecutors will be able to wiretap pimps; that trafficking survivors arrested for prostitution can use the affirmative defense that they were trafficked; and that the stigmatizing word “prostitute” is removed from the Penal Law. In doing so, New York’s law enforcement will have better tools to target and arrest the pimps and buyers who are supporting this multi-billion dollar trafficking industry – instead of focusing their resources on arresting victims.

New York has consistently been at the forefront of anti-trafficking efforts. I encourage you to keep up this incredible effort by taking all legislative and policy measures to pass the TVPJA before the legislative session ends on June 19. Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,