New York State Sex Trafficking Loophole Closed
Making Strides to End Sex Trafficking
Human trafficking survivors and their advocates scored a major victory in June when the New York State legislature approved a bill establishing the crime of “sex trafficking of a child,” the 50th and final state of the U.S. to do so, just behind Alabama.
Incredibly, until the bill’s passage, New York State made no distinction between the trafficking of children and of adults for sex. In all New York prosecutions in which pimps were tried for human trafficking, victims had to demonstrate in court that “force, fraud, or coercion” had been used against them, and the child or adult had acted against their will.
Those were impossible legal criteria to meet for vulnerable minors—particularly those experiencing homelessness—who were lured into sexual slavery by the novelty of regular meals or the illusion of love. Court dates, when they happened, easily ended up re-traumatizing the child instead of prosecuting the trafficker.
New York’s action came in June, just two months after the U.S. Congress finally approved the Fight Online Sex Trafficking /Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA/SESTA), which closed a legal loophole that had allowed online marketplaces like Backpage.com to knowingly sell children and teens for sex.
Jayne Bigelsen, vice president of anti-trafficking initiatives and advocacy for Covenant House New York (CHNY), said the New York State legislation “will make it harder for pimps to sell children,” and she hailed the passage of the bill along with that of FOSTA/SESTA as a “huge victory.”
“It’s unprecedented to have two major pieces of anti-trafficking legislation pass in one year,” Jayne underscored, noting that legislators from all U.S. political parties now appear to be willing to confront human trafficking, especially sex trafficking.
“This victory in New York further strengthens our overall effort to protect our youth and ensure they do not fall victim to those seeking to do them harm,” added Lori Maloney, senior vice president for program operations and advocacy at Covenant House International.
The combined victory was eight long years in the making. Covenant House and other advocates for survivors of human trafficking lobbied continuously in both Albany and Washington for legislation that would close the legal loopholes that left vulnerable children and teens at risk.
In that period, Backpage was notorious for allowing sex traffickers and predators to use its online pages to lure youth—including Covenant House youth—from safety to exploitation. Immediately following the passage of FOSTA/SESTA, the online marketplace was shut down and its top officers arrested.
Still, Lori cautioned, “We have to remain ever vigilant, as we continue to face challenges to FOSTA/SESTA.”
A New Day in New York
Once the New York State legislation (A6823-B/S5988-A) is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, young people like Danielle* will not be without recourse when they try to bring charges against the sex traffickers who enslaved them.
Danielle was 15 when she met Brian*, then in his late 30s. He made her feel special, pretty and smart. She thought she was in love, until he started asking her to have sex with other men. Danielle didn’t want to do it, but by then, she had run away from her grandmother’s home and had nowhere else to go. Brian made it clear that if she was going to live with him, sex with others was part of the deal. And although money often changed hands in these instances, Danielle saw none of it.
One night, after having sex with several men, Danielle couldn’t take it anymore. She found her way to CHNY, where she met Jayne and asked if there was any way Brian could be punished. She was having nightmares and realized Brian had only used her. A CHNY intern accompanied Danielle to a meeting with law enforcement, but the meeting ended with a simple notation: “No force, fraud, or coercion.”
That was as far as Danielle could go in her pursuit of justice. Today, though, is a new day in New York State, one in which justice is increasingly within reach.
*Names have been changed to protect the trafficking survivor.