New York State Passes Law to Protect Child Sex Trafficking Victims

by | Jan 3, 2019


Early this summer, the Governor of New York signed a new law that strengthens the state’s efforts to punish sex traffickers and protect vulnerable children1 by making it a crime for those over the age of 21 to promote or benefit from the prostitution of anyone under the age of 18.2

Previously, New York State law only punished traffickers who used force, fraud or coercion to convince children to engage in prostitution. These young victims of trafficking would rarely take the stand to provide the evidence necessary to put their traffickers behind bars.3 Thus, the old law made it extremely difficult for prosecutors to punish traffickers. Under the new penal code, prosecutors and law enforcement officials should have an easier time holding traffickers accountable for their crimes, thereby better protecting children in New York from the predatory actions of traffickers.

This new law comes on of the heels of 11 years of anti-trafficking legal reform in the New York State. The State’s most important development in that area was the passing of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA) in 2015.4 The TVPJA increased the penalty for sex trafficking offenses and added new punishments for buyers and other exploiters of trafficking victims.5

After the passing of the TVPJA, however, the State government still received criticism for its failure to combat other trafficking issues. A New York Post series in spring of 2018 on the growing trafficking industry in New York exposed gaps in the state’s human trafficking law. The exposé prompted efforts to bolster the state’s trafficking laws and better protect vulnerable persons.6

Until this new law’s passage, New York was one of few states that still required a prosecutor to prove force, fraud, or coercion in cases of child sex trafficking.7 As a result of this passing, New York State law more closely conforms to federal law on child sex trafficking. Under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 1591 criminalizes any action that causes a person to engage in a commercial sex act, if that person is under the age of 18, no matter the age of the perpetrator.8 Federal law, thus, goes further to protect child sex trafficking victims.

International law, however, surpasses both federal and New York State law in protecting child victims of labor trafficking. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (commonly known as the “Palermo Protocol”) criminalizes both labor and sex trafficking of persons under the age of 18 without the requirement of proving the presence of force, fraud or coercion.9 Under federal10 and New York State law,11 the prosecution must prove force, fraud, or coercion for the court to convict a defendant of child labor trafficking. While international law on labor trafficking may be too broad by U.S. standards, its wide application could better protect child victims of labor trafficking. Although this new legislation does not provide an application as broad as the Palermo Protocol, the New York State government took several steps forward in the fight against trafficking.

These wider protections for child victims of sex trafficking will hopefully lead to active punishment of traffickers across New York State. The Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., in praising the passage of the law stated that now, “New York joined 48 states to put children’s interests ahead of traffickers.’” Vance’s comments reinforce the importance of this new legislation in pushing New York into the modern age of combatting sex trafficking.12

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