Two State Senators and the Erie County Sheriff are urging members of the Assembly to pass a bill they say will make it easier to prosecute those who conduct human sex trafficking, especially in cases involving child victims.
State Senators Patrick Gallivan and Chris Jacobs joined Sheriff Timothy Howard to support the legislation. Gallivan, a former Erie County Sheriff, explained that under federal law, any individual under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex activity is deemed a sex trafficking victim while those who profit, promote or otherwise benefit from it are deemed sex traffickers.
In New York State, prosecuting sex trafficking cases requires proof that victims were forced or coerced into action. This, Gallivan said, requires victims - including minors - to testify in court, something he and other argue makes it difficult to gain justice.
"What our law does, that passed in the Senate, is it eliminates the need to prove force, fraud or coercion when a child under 18 is involved in prostitution," Gallivan said. "It aligns with our sex offense laws. It will make it much better for law enforcement, make it better for prosecutors, to do something about this."
Gallivan pointed out that many victims of sex trafficking are immigrants and refugees, often times promised a new life in America only to become coerced into prostitution or sexual slavery. Erie County Sheriff's Detective Theresa Nietzel says one of the difficulties in getting many victims to communicate is their fear of immediate deportation. There are programs available, she explained, that protect victims including undocumented immigrants.
"Continued Presence is a temporary, immediate fix that can be applied for," Nietzel said. "What it does is it allows the victims to be able to access services so we can provide them stable housing, safety, medical needs, those kind of things that are often needed right away. After that, down the road, there'd be the application for a trafficking visa, which is a T Visa, and then the U Visa program."
State Senator Jacobs urged lawmakers in the Assembly to act quickly on similar legislation.
"This needs to happen this year, this session, so we do everything we can to protect children and minors from predators and abuse," Jacobs said.
The final scheduled meeting of the current Assembly session is June 20.