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

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!

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 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 at Gateways, 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.

Currently, a person who buys a minor for sex receives a lower penalty than someone convicted of raping a minor of the same age, and 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, 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 of 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.”

Trafficking victims can’t wait. Please take action today and help us pass the TVPJA before the legislative session ends on 19 June! If you live in New York, please also contact your district’s legislators and ask them to pass the TVPJA. Click on the links to find your assemblyperson or senator.

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