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

25 JUNE 2013 UPDATE - In a positive step for 16 and17 year-old sex trafficking victims, on 22 June, the New York State legislature passed a bill extending its Safe Harbor Law to cover all prostituted individuals under the age of eighteen (previously only victims aged 15 and under were covered). Now, 16 and 17 year-old victims who are arrested for prostitution will be classified as trafficking victims, thereby allowing them to access treatment services rather than jail time. Their criminal records will also be sealed so as not to penalize them further while they rebuild their lives. Equality Now congratulates Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Andrew Lanza for their incredible work in ensuring passage of this bill during this legislative session.

Unfortunately, due to political grandstanding in Albany, the TVPJA was not passed. However, we are optimistic that the bill will ultimately pass during New York’s next legislative term as there was significant support for it in both the Senate and Assembly. Over the next few months, Equality Now and our partners will strategize on a plan to secure passage of the TVPJA during the next legislative session. Thank you to our thousands of supporters for petitioning the New York legislature in support of this campaign, and we hope we can count on your continued support in 2014.

Equality Now New York Director Lauren Hersh speaks at the 2013 Legislative Lobby Day in Albany, NY.
In March 2013, Equality Now started working with Ruth, a young sex trafficking survivor from New York City. After being raped by her mother's boyfriend at age 12, she turned to an "older boyfriend" for love and safety. This "boyfriend" turned out to be a pimp, who prostituted and beat her if she didn’t make nightly quotas. Ruth was eventually arrested, but mainly due to deficiencies in New York State’s anti-trafficking law, her pimp and the buyers were not held accountable. Ruth was placed at Gateways, a Jewish Child Care Association (JCCA) intensive residential treatment program, and is now in school and rebuilding the life that was stolen from her.

There are countless girls like Ruth who are trafficked for commercial sex and treated like criminals. Yet, the pimps and buyers who are committing crimes are rarely held accountable.

Equality Now is campaigning with the JCCA and the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition for the passage of the New York Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA). If passed, this law will give New York’s law enforcement 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 like Ruth. Specifically, the TVPJA will ensure that:

  • Penalties for buying sex from a minor are aligned with those for statutory rape.
  • New York’s anti-trafficking laws are brought in line with the federal anti-trafficking statute by removing the requirement that prosecutors prove that underage trafficking victims were coerced into sexual acts, making it easier to target sex traffickers.
  • All prostituted individuals under the age of eighteen are classified as trafficking victims, thereby eliminating the exception in NY for 16 and 17 year olds, and ensuring that they receive support services instead of criminal records.

Please join us by sending letters to New York Governor Cuomo, Assemblyman Silver, and Senator Dean G. Skelos to urge them to pass the TVPJA during the June 2013 legislative session. If you live in New York, please also ask your district’s legislators to pass the TVPJA. Click on the links to find your assemblyperson or senator.

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To learn more about the campaign & for a list of full contact information for the government officials above, see: