New York, NY —
Sex trafficking victims may soon be able to have prostitution convictions against them vacated, thanks to new legislation approved in Albany.
Young women are often lured to the New York area with promises of jobs and then find themselves coerced into prostitution. Many of these young women get arrested and charged with a crime even though they were forced to do the work against their will.
Sienna Baskin, a staff attorney for the Sex Workers Program at the Urban Justice Center, says treating trafficking victims like criminals simply pushes them back into the hands of their abusers.
"They end up with a conviction on their record and they go right back into the hands of their trafficker, so we have clients who were arrested up to ten times before escaping their trafficking situation, usually on their own," Baskin says.
Baskin adds that those convictions can make it harder for women to get jobs or legal residency. The landmark legislation--New York's law is the first in the country--will allow trafficking survivors to start their lives over with a clean slate. As it stands, women who've been abused for years are then forced to disclose their criminal convictions to potential employers.
"Even after [the victims] escape from trafficking, that criminal record blocks them from decent jobs and a chance to rebuild their lives," says Democratic Assemblyman Richard Gottfried of Manhattan, the author of the bill. "This bill will give them a desperately needed second chance they deserve.”
The New York State Senate passed the bill on Tuesday and the Assembly passed the same bill in May. The governor still has to sign the bill into law, but advocates believe he will. The governor's office says he will review the bill when it is delivered to him by the legislature.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a State Department report earlier this week that acknowledged for the first time the modern "slave trade" is going on in this country.