Is New York failing child trafficking victims?

Despite rigorous anti-trafficking efforts, New York State continues to face challenges tackling child sex trafficking. Photo: Associated Press

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19, 2012 -Police in Albany, New York, arrested a fourteen year old teen and her pimp for prostitution related charges at a local motel last week. The incident drew attention to widespread sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of minors in the state, despite New York’s rigorous anti-trafficking efforts.

Last week, local news media reported that police arrested a fourteen year old girl and her pimp for prostitution related charges in Albany, New York. According to the media outlet, the teen has been missing since she ran away from transitional housing in the area a few days before her arrest. Police indicated that commercial sexual exploitation of minors is rare in the area; however, local activists argued that sexual exploitation of teens is widespread in the region.

As a local activist from Albany argued, commercial sexual exploitation of youth in the state is common. Anti-trafficking advocates agree that many missing and runaway youth are subject to child sex trafficking. According to the 2011 Missing and Exploited Children Clearinghouse Annual Report, the number of missing children in New York State increased by 4% to 20,309 in 2010. Of those 20,309, 96% were runaways. 

New York boasts that it has more comprehensive anti-trafficking laws than any other state in the U.S. In 2007, the authorities stepped up to make human trafficking a stand-alone crime. In 2008, New York became the first state to pass Safe Harbour law to grant child trafficking victims appropriate victim assistance and aftercare. The Safe Harbour law allows child sex trafficking victims to receive counseling and other services instead of criminalizing them through incarceration in juvenile facilities.

To strengthen the existing anti-trafficking law, the state recently passed a bill mandating taxi drivers to report any suspicious sex trafficking incidents. That law is also the first of its kind in the U.S.

However, Shared Hope International, an anti-trafficking organization focusing on combating sex trafficking of American children, argues that New York’s anti-trafficking law has many loopholes, failing to protect child sex trafficking victims in the state.

For starters, the weak legislation makes New York a sanctuary for child sex trafficking buyers. Also, the state sex trafficking law does not criminalize the purchase of commercial sex from children. Hence, a buyer purchasing sex from a child is only subject to commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) related crimes, which carries relatively small penalties. A buyer purchasing commercial sex from children between ages 14 and 18 only faces the maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1000 fine. When a child victim is under the age of 14, a buyer can face up to four years in prison and maximum fine of $5000. In any event, a buyer can always employ a defense of consent or age confusion when charged with CSEC related crimes.

 The gap between the state’s anti-trafficking and CSEC laws leave many child victims vulnerable to criminalization. Though the state’s anti-trafficking law does not require children under the age of 14 to prove force, coercion, or fraud to receive victim assistance, it mandates that victims between the age of 15 and 17 do so to receive victim treatment. These state provisions contradict those of the federal anti-trafficking law, which assumes that all children under the age of 18 are incapable of consenting to any commercial sexual acts.

The same study also argues that the criminal procedure is not victim-friendly to children exploited in the commercial sex industry. The New York State law allows children under the age of 14 to testify against their traffickers on closed circuit television while children between the ages of 15 and 17 must testify in person. And New York’s rape shield law, a regulation to protect victims of sexual abuse from the trauma of cross-examination, does not apply to CSEC victims. Hence, New York’s criminal procedure exposes many child sex trafficking victims to the trauma of sexual abuse by reliving their experiences through testimony given against their traffickers.

Advocates and legislators in New York have demonstrated rigorous efforts to combat sex trafficking of children. Regardless, child sex trafficking remains rampant in the state. Instead of implementing more regulations, advocates must close the loopholes in the existing regulations to tackle demand, prosecute traffickers, and protect innocent victims in the state. Until then, they will never see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Youngbee Dale is a writer, researcher, and human rights advocate. She invites you to join her on Google+Facebook, or Twitter


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Youngbee Dale

Youngbee Dale graduated from Regent University with Master’s degree in International Politics in 2009. While at Regent, she interned at World Bank and co-contributed to a human trafficking publication, “Setting the Captives Free” by Olivia McDonald (2007). She also worked with migrant workers and human trafficking victims in South Korea. Currently, she stays home with her three-month-old son to exercise the divine rights to mother and breastfeed him. 

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