Victims join advocates in push to strengthen anti-trafficking law

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Two survivors of sex trafficking today joined advocates for strengthening penalties for traffickers and strengthening protections for victims. Legislation that has been proposed would make a number of changes in state law, such as create the felony sex offenses of first-, second- and third-degree aggravated patronizing a minor so penalties would be the same as for statutory rape. Sex trafficking would be a class B violent felony, a more serious crime than the current non-violent B felony.

Brianna of Mount Vernon, Westchester County, who asked that her last name not be used, said she was raped and kidnapped by her school’s janitor when she was 9. She managed to escape when she was about 12, but she ended up with someone who turned out to be another pimp. She turns 16 tomorrow.

Brianna said during a news conference this afternoon that she was arrested when she was 12 and called a prostitute. Currently, prostitute is the only crime in New York in which defendants are labeled based on the crime. In other cases, such as murder, the law calls them defendants.

“With prostitute you ┬áthink that I would wake up one day and just say, ‘Hey let me sell my body. I need some money in my pocket.’ And that wasn’t the case,” she said. “I was forced to do things against my will. I was stuck in a room that i could not get out of. I was forced not to see my family and to think that this man that was controlling me was the only ┬áperson that I had.”

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, Westchester County, said New York made progress in 2007 by criminalizing sex and labor trafficking and in 2008 by passing a “safe harbor” law.

“Having had a few years experience with these two laws … we’ve learned that there are some gaps and inconsistencies in the law that we need to address to improve our response,” she said.

Legislation she is sponsoring this session “ensures that penalties fit the crimes and provides additional tools to prosecutors and law enforcement to go after and hold accountable the real criminals — the buyers, the traffickers and the transporters — who fuel this massive, heinous industry.

“Furthermore, it increases access of victims to social services to break the vicious cycle of dependency and humiliation.”

Other provisions of the legislation would bar patronizers of prostitutes from saying they did not know the victim was under-age, allow warrants to intercept conversations during investigations of trafficking under-age victims, and send cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds to family court.

This is video of Brianna speaking at the news conference:

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