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State To Lessen Penalties For Sex Trafficking Victims, Prostitutes

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New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced Wednesday a statewide initiative aimed at helping victims of sex trafficking and prostitution that will allow for the dismissal or reduction in charges they may face. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

New York State's top judge says prostitutes don't freely choose the career, but rather are forced or manipulated into it.

"It is in every sense a form of modern day slavery. We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to allow victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system," said State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

At a citizens crime commission meeting Wednesday, Lippman said by the end of next month courtrooms will be set up across the state to specifically deal with prostitution and sex trafficking cases. There will be an effort to dismiss cases against accused prostitutes or lessen charges against them to non criminal offenses. Counseling and other services will also be offered.

The Legal Aid Society is praising the move, saying the majority of prostitutes are victims.

"There is almost a double punishment. These are individuals who are survivors of human trafficking who are charged with crimes when they themselves are victims," said Stephen Banks of the Legal Aid Society.

One woman who spoke with NY1 says she was one of those victims who turned her life around. She says more help like the court initiative is needed.

"People are starting to get it and that these girls are not criminals. They are victims and they need help," she said.

"The typical age of entry into prostitution in the United States is only 12 to 14 years of age," Lippman said.

For the last few years there have been pilot court programs in Manhattan and Queens. Judges say the initiative works and it is clear the majority of women and children are abused and fearful.

"Many of the defendants are forced to give their money to their pimps. They are often beaten If they do not provide the money that is owed to their pimps," said Queens Human Trafficking Court Judge Toko Serita.

Judges and prosecutors who attended Wednesday's meeting admit there has to be more emphasis on going after the pimps, human traffickers, and clients -- not just the prostitutes.

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