Gloria Steinem and Advocates Applaud NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson for His Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform

Our joint statement on Speaker Johnson’s Call for the Equality Model

Speaker Johnson’s Call for the Equality Model is the right step to protect and promote the well-being of those who are sex trafficked and individuals in the sex trade while holding accountable those who harm them.

As leading direct service providers, women’s rights, anti-trafficking and youth activists, immigrant, gender and racial justice advocates, child welfare advocates, and sex trade survivors, we applaud City Council Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership in calling for meaningful criminal justice reform in New York City.

In particular, we commend the Speaker’s support for the repeal of the “loitering for purposes of engaging in prostitution” offense, which permits law enforcement to make often arbitrary arrests based on untenable suspicions of prostitution. These arrests have been used as a discriminatory tactic and reports show that the law’s usage disproportionately targets women and girls of color as well as transwomen and girls.

Speaker Johnson also declared his support for the Equality Model (also known as the Nordic Model) and called for urgent action in addressing prostitution and sex trafficking. This legal framework solely decriminalizes people in prostitution while only targeting those who harm them, including pimps and sex buyers.

Key to the Equality Model is its directive to create and implement comprehensive services, including trauma-informed medical and mental health services, housing, education, and job training, for all people in prostitution. Speaker Johnson’s announcement concerning his commitment to opening a center that will provide wrap-around services to individuals in the sex trade is an important step in the right direction.

New York City prides itself in being at the forefront of protecting human rights, especially those of the most marginalized populations among us. The overwhelming majority of those in prostitution are marginalized women, girls, transwomen and girls, especially of color. In our city, most of these individuals are New Yorkers; others are undocumented immigrants who have likely been sex trafficked. Many of us are part of and all of us work with these communities.

The Equality Model’s goal is to promote and protect the economic security, health and social equality of the most disenfranchised women and transwomen while safeguarding them from violence and discrimination. In tandem with providing comprehensive services, the City must also invest in education and training, and commit to changes in policy and practice to eradicate discrimination and mistreatment by law enforcement and the judicial system. Already, due to grassroots efforts, we’ve seen improvements. Through training and engagement with law enforcement, arrests of pimps and traffickers have slowly increased since 2016 when the NYPD committed to targeting “pimps and johns” and investing in long-term investigations, while arrests of individuals selling sex have steadily decreased each year.

The sex trade is where sex trafficking happens. Every dollar that feeds the multi-billion dollar sex trade comes from sex buyers who treat people in the sex trade like commodities and cause immense, long-term harm. The Speaker courageously recognized that the sex trade is inherently antithetical to equality for all and affirmed that we have the power to fight it.

The Equality Model must be part of New York’s toolkit of laws and policies to reform the criminal justice system and promote gender, racial, economic and immigration justice.

Gloria Steinem

Coalition Against Trafficking in Women

Covenant House


Equality Now

Graham Windham


National Organization for Women – New York City

New York Alliance Against the Legalization of Prostitution

New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition

Not On My Watch

Sanctuary for Families

Our 2019 New York State Legislative Agenda

In preparation for our Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re releasing our agenda.

In preparation for Sanctuary Advocacy Day on April 30, we’re unveiling our 2019 legislative agenda. Tomorrow, we’ll thank State lawmakers in Albany for their support of important bills like the Cyber Sexual Abuse law and the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act which passed earlier this session and urge them to enact additional measures that would offer increased legal protections to survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking and people in prostitution, as well as immigrants who seek assistance from our courts.

Among the key measures on our legislative agenda are:

Rape Shield Law
A.2240 Rosenthal / S.5070 Parker

Sanctuary for Families strongly supports bill A. 2240 / S. 5070 which would expand the rape shield law to include protections for individuals who have a history of trafficking or prostitution. New York’s rape shield law currently protects most victims of sex offenses by limiting introduction of evidence pertaining to the survivor’s sexual history. However, survivors of sex trafficking or prostitution are exempt from these protections. Consequently, survivors of rape or other sexual offenses are at high risk of being portrayed as less credible if they have ever been prostituted or sex trafficked, making it harder to prosecute the offenders.  They are also more likely to suffer greater re-traumatization.

Anywhere from 60% to 90% of people in prostitution are raped, not always by johns or pimps. These survivors should have the same legal protections as other sexual assault survivors.

A.982 Gottfried  / S.3181 Lanza

In 2010, New York State became a national leader when it allowed survivors of trafficking to vacate their prostitution-related convictions.  This law has helped many whose criminal convictions have had devastating consequences on their ability to reintegrate into society.

While laudable, this remedy falls short. Too often, victims of human trafficking are criminally prosecuted for many acts – like drug possession, theft and fraud – that they were forced to commit by abusive pimps. This measure would allow the court to vacate certain convictions under these circumstances. This relief would be life-changing for survivors who continue to bear the burden of a criminal record for acts in which they were compelled to engage.

A.0654 Paulin  / S.2253 Hoylman

Sanctuary for Families strongly supports this measure which would repeal Penal Law § 240.37, Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense.  In their direct work, Sanctuary has seen how this statute has been used as a discriminatory tactic, enforced arbitrarily and targeting marginalized and mostly minority communities at risk of abuse and exploitation. The repercussions of arrest and conviction, even for a seemingly low-level offense, can be devastating. Convictions can prevent an individual from obtaining employment or housing. For immigrant survivors of sex trafficking, even an arrest that is dismissed can negatively impact immigration status, and subject the person to risk of deportation. The current loitering statute causes irreparable harm and its repeal would send a strong signal that New York State values civil rights, dignity and due process.

Protect Our Courts Act
A.02176 Solages / S.00425 Hoylman

This bill would prohibit Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents from making civil arrests in and around New York State courthouses without a judicial warrant or court order.

75% of the gender violence and sex trafficking survivors served at Sanctuary for Families are immigrants who rely on the courts for orders of protection, child custody and other support.  Some are witnesses in criminal cases against their abusers. ICE’s presence in New York’s courthouses and the mere threat of detention and deportation spreads fear and deters many immigrants from seeking the protections that are rightfully theirs.

“New York has been a leader in its response to sex trafficking, gender violence and harsh immigration policies. By passing these measures, we will continue to set the benchmark for other states.  We applaud the effort of Assemblymembers Rosenthal, Gottfried, Paulin and Solages, and Senators Parker, Lanza and Hoylman – and so many of their colleagues for the courage and insight they have shown concerning the needs of gender violence survivors and members of our immigrant communities.  We urge the legislature and Governor Cuomo to make sure these measures become law this session.”

Hon. Judy Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families

DHS plan to deputize border agents to handle Credible Fear Interviews will harm refugees

Tasking Border Patrol agents with conducting credible fear interviews is a clear effort to fast-track the removal of vulnerable asylum seekers.

Lori Adams is the Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families.

The recent U.S. Department of Homeland Security decision, reported by President of the National Border Patrol Council Brandon Judd, to task Border Patrol agents with conducting credible fear interviews is a clear effort to fast-track the removal of vulnerable asylum seekers, many of whom are gender violence survivors, from the U.S.

Sanctuary for Families serves individuals and families who have suffered gender-based harm to find safety and rebuild their lives. Our refugee clients, including women who have survived gender-based violence in their homes and in their communities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have suffered violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have a right to seek asylum and to have a trained officer evaluate their claims.

These claims require an understanding of the country conditions that provide the context for that suffering, the failure of state protection for women and others in those countries, and an understanding of the evolving laws and policies impacting gender-based asylum cases. Credible fear interviews are the first step in the U.S. asylum process.  They are a matter of life and death.  And they should only be conducted by asylum officers who have received the training and have the time to recognize a refugee when they see one.

Section 235 of the Immigration and Nationality Act requires this. The “professional training in country conditions, asylum law, and interview techniques” that asylum officers receive is not provided to Border Patrol officers whose role is to monitor the border for weapons, drugs, and other threats to U.S. security. DHS should not divert the attention of Border Patrol agents away from their intended duties, and should not ask them to take on responsibilities that they were not hired or trained to do. That will almost certainly lead to failure to properly identify refugees at the border, and will increase the burden on the U.S. immigration courts to reconsider improperly denied applicants.

Instead, the U.S. should fund the creation of additional positions within the Asylum Division and ensure that the new asylum officers receive the requisite training in country conditions, asylum law, and interviewing techniques to properly evaluate the asylum claims of vulnerable refugees who fled to this country to seek protection.

The U.S. is a nation of immigrants and was founded as a safe haven for those who escaped persecution in their countries of origin. Not only are we bound by international law and our own domestic asylum laws to protect refugees who cross our borders, but providing that safety and protection is also inextricably bound to the ideals upon which this nation was founded.

The pilot program is reportedly scheduled to begin two weeks from now. Sanctuary for Families urges DHS to cancel this pilot program and leave the responsibility of conducting sensitive credible fear interviews with the asylum officers who are trained to conduct them.

To speak with Lori Adams, Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, contact LAK Public Relations.

On International Agunah Day, Sanctuary Stands with Jewish Orthodox Survivors

Learn about the plight of “chained women” and how you can support our work within the Jewish Orthodox Community.

On the eve of Purim, the Jewish Orthodox community observes Ta’anit Esther to commemorate the plea of Queen Esther – a Jewish woman who saved her people during their exile in the Persian Empire. Like many Jewish women today, Esther was trapped in a forced marriage to the king of Persia and spent years fearing her husband might kill her.

Today, Sanctuary joins advocates around the world to observe the International Day of the Agunah – a day marked yearly on the Fast of Esther to bring awareness to the plight of the modern-day agunah, or “chained woman” – and stands in solidarity with Jewish Orthodox women in New York and across the world who have suffered from get-refusal and are trapped in unwanted marriages.

According to Jewish law, a marriage can only be dissolved once the husband voluntarily grants a get, or religious divorce, to his wife – something many men refuse to do out of malice or to use as leverage when negotiating financial settlements and custody arrangements. Get-refusal is thus a form of domestic violence by which the husband asserts power and control to deny his wife the opportunity to separate and move on with her life. Orthodox Jewish women in these situations are called agunot, or chained women, for they are not allowed to remarry. For agunot, any new relationship they have is considered adultery, and their children will be considered illegitimate if conceived outside of marriage.

At Sanctuary, we recognize get-refusal as a form of gender violence that harms women, their children, and the wider Jewish Orthodox Community. In 2015, seeing that many women seeking help with civil and religious divorces had virtually nowhere to turn for help, we launched the Jewish Orthodox Matrimonial Project. In the years since, we have provided clinical and legal services, shelter, and economic empowerment to hundreds of Jewish Orthodox women and their children. Furthermore, we have actively engaged with rabbis, community leaders, and peer organizations, to build a network of advocates committed to raising awareness about domestic violence within the Jewish Orthodox community and protecting the rights and wellbeing of survivors.

Please consider demonstrating your solidarity this International Agunah Day by donating to Sanctuary’s Jewish Orthodox Matrimonial Project.