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.

 Vacatur
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.

 Loitering
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

Get to know our Immigration Intervention Project staff

Find out what drew our Immigration Intervention Project staff to Sanctuary and what about their work inspires them.

Working in immigration these days is not easy. Adapting to the rapidly changing policies amidst a constant stream of charged anti-immigrant rhetoric from the White House, and seeing the impacts of both on families here in New York is often as exhausting as it is upsetting.

Our Immigration Intervention Project team, made up of 19 attorneys, case managers, specialists, and project assistants, are committed to helping immigrant gender violence survivors secure and maintain lawful immigration status and obtain U.S. citizenship. Working with partner agencies and city officials, our immigration team strives to support New York’s immigrant communities and empower undocumented survivors of gender violence to build safe and happy lives here in the City.

Get to know a few of our team and find out why they do the hard but important work that they do. 

Sheeba

Staff Attorney, Bronx Family Justice Center

Languages other than English: Tamil and Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: The holistic support that Sanctuary’s immigration clients receive — legal assistance in other areas, counseling, economic empowerment, case management, etc.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: I’m a child of immigrants who grew up in New York City, so helping other immigrants obtain status and unite their families is a great way to pay it forward.

Anne Cécile

Immigration Specialist, Manhattan Family Justice Center

Languages other than English: French, German, Chinese, and basic Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I try hard never to believe in borders.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: The resilience and strength of survivors, even in these dull times, never ceases to amaze me.

Pooja

Deputy Director, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: French

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: The people. 

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Our clients’ resilience. 

Ines

Staff Attorney, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: French and Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: My passion for representing vulnerable immigrants in removal proceedings. Legal representation is more than essential to navigate the U.S. immigration court system and win a case. All immigrants facing deportation should be given a fair hearing.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: The courage, strength, and resolve of our clients give me hope. They don’t give up so neither should we.

Natali

Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: Immigrant women are among the most vulnerable groups of immigrants. On top of the forms of domestic violence survivors face, immigrant women face extra barriers to peace and justice, including fear of police and the judicial system, fear of deportation, inadequate shelter and other social services, language and cultural barriers, and lack of access to information about the legal system. When I first found out about Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project, I was immediately drawn to its mission to breaking down these barriers for immigrant survivors.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Our clients! They have gone through unspeakable violence and systematic barriers and still continue to contribute to the United States. The first thing the majority of my clients ask me is how and when they can pay taxes because they want to give back to their new home. Immigrants are not a “drain” on our resources they are the fuel that keeps this nation running. Their strength and hope gives me hope. (sorry cheesy, but it’s so true)

Tayyaba

Senior Staff Attorney, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish, Urdu, and Hindi.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I was drawn to the opportunity to work with immigrant survivors from across the world and empower them with the knowledge of their rights and remedies, as well as being able to assist them in their immigration needs.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: It gives me hope to see New Yorkers and Sanctuary staff outside of the Immigration Intervention Project taking such an interest and becoming so active in supporting immigrants’ rights. It was great seeing how how recent trip to the border generated so much interest among staff.

Vanessa

Project Assistant, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project:My family and I are immigrants from Mexico. I was helped by a non-profit to adjust my status and without them I do not think I would have been able to cover the fees, let alone apply to adjust my status. With the current political climate that we are in and the attacks on immigrant communities, I felt called to support immigrants and wanted to work in a non-profit as a way to give back and help.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: That all the colleagues I work with are as passionate as I am about the work that we do. That we care deeply for all immigrant communities and we want to provide high quality work for our clients because they deserve it. We all know the importance of immigrants to this country and to this city, so being around people who share that same value is so important to me.

Gaby

Case Manager, Manhattan Office

Languages other than English: Spanish.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: I want to one day be an immigration attorney.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: Sanctuary provides so many resources to those who feel they have nothing or no where to turn.

Ana

Senior Staff Attorney

Languages other than English: Bosnian.

What drew her to Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project: To help clients win their cases despite the current administration’s hostile, anti-immigrant policies.

One thing in her work at Sanctuary and life in New York that gives her hope as our country’s leadership continues demonize immigrants and target immigrant communities: That we still rise. 

New York State moves to protect survivors of cyber sexual abuse

This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims. 

Today, landmark legislation was unanimously passed in the New York State Legislature to criminalize the non-consensual dissemination of sexually explicit images and videos, commonly known as “revenge porn” or “cyber sexual abuse.” This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims.

When Nathaly first ran into Sanctuary staff attorney Lindsey Song at the Bronx Family Court House, she was anxious and distraught. A former boyfriend she had dated as a teenager had recently sent her a link to a porn website with a video of the two of them having sex – a video she did not know even existed. The link included her full name, where she was from, and her father’s phone number. This was in 2017, before she helped New York City pass a law criminalizing cyber sexual abuse and before any legal remedies existed for victims like herself.

Today, thanks to Nathaly’s courageous advocacy in partnership with Sanctuary and the work of Assembly Member Edward Braunstein, Senator Monica Martinez, and numerous advocates and other survivors, New York joined 42 other states that have passed legislation to protect victims of cyber sexual abuse and recognized the terrible magnitude of harm that it inflicts upon victims.

Watch Nathaly’s speech from our annual benefit last year >

At Sanctuary, we see the devastating damage that cyber sexual abuse causes its victims. Survivors are often forced to change their names and flee the state to escape the horror of having their most intimate photos go viral; others have been threatened with sexual and physical violence when their photos have been posted, and many have lost their jobs, families, or communities as a result of this abuse.

Should this legislation be signed into law, it will be a crime to share an explicit image without a person’s consent when done so with the intention of causing emotional, financial, or physical harm. In addition to criminal relief, survivors will also be able to seek justice and protection through both Family and Criminal Courts, as well as secure injunctive relief if a website refuses to take action in removing the videos or images in question.

In late 2017, Nathaly and Sanctuary helped pass New York City’s cyber sexual abuse bill which is being used every day. Today we celebrate their work and the work of others in the passage of a New York State bill which will provide many more survivors like Nathaly with the legal recourse to seek relief from the flood of online harassment that they have long been denied. We hope that the Governor will act quickly to sign this measure into law.

Sanctuary Announces the New Co-Chair of the PBC

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of January 2019, Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, is serving as Co-Chair of the PBC.

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of January 2019, Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, is serving as Co-Chair along with Louisa Irving, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Bureau, New York State Office of the Attorney General, Co-Chair since 2018, who has generously offered to stay on for a second one-year term.

Sharon succeeds Mia White, Associate General Counsel at McKinsey & Company, who served as Co-Chair of the PBC from January 2016 to December 2017. We are very grateful for Mia’s outstanding dedication and leadership over the past three years.

About the PBC

The PBC was formed in 2003 as the Associate’s Committee, later changed to the Pro Bono Council and currently known as the PBC, with the goal of bringing together young professionals committed to supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary through active community engagement, pro bono projects, and client-centered events. The PBC currently has approximately 35 active members. Each fall, the PBC hosts the Above and Beyond benefit, an event that supports the Legal Center by honoring the pro bono lawyers and other volunteers who have worked on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients during the past year. Last year’s Above & Beyond event raised nearly $200,000 in support of the Legal Center.

Introducing Sharon

Sharon’s passion for feminist jurisprudence brought her to Sanctuary early in her career. While at Cornell Law School, where she attended prior to transferring to NYU, Sharon came across an article by Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center. Sharon says the article, which discussed the relationship between prostitution and trafficking, significantly changed her understanding of commercial sexual exploitation. It also prompted her to learn more about Leidholdt’s work and to pursue an internship at Sanctuary for Families.

In the summer of 2011, Sharon joined Sanctuary as a legal intern on the Community Law Project. Working under the supervision of former Senior Staff Attorney Brett Figlewski, she devoted her time and skills to assist survivors of domestic violence from ethnic and historically-marginalized ­groups – including LGBT, Asian, African and Latina communities. Sharon continued her work at Sanctuary throughout her first semester at NYU, demonstrating excellence in her work and genuine commitment to Sanctuary’s mission.

Upon graduating, Sharon became an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and joined the PBC shortly after. During her five years at this firm, she worked with William Gorin, Sanctuary’s Board President, and with board member Jennifer Kroman. Sharon recalls one of her most rewarding pro bono cases while at Cleary Gottlieb involved a Sanctuary client who had experienced decades of abuse and isolation. Working in collaboration with Sanctuary’s counselors and fellow attorneys, Sharon actively supported her client throughout the healing process. The client, feeling comfortable and empowered, eventually began her transition and now lives as a woman.

With substantial experience in the areas of litigation, cross-border investigations, and white-collar defense, Sharon now works as an associate at Cohen & Gresser since August 2018. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, where she graduated cum laude, and a J.D. from New York University. Sharon is also a member of the New York City Bar Association International Human Rights Committee and the Steering Committee of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York LGBTQ Youth Clinic.

Taking on a second leadership role at the PBC ­– a group she has been a member of since 2013 – speaks to how important it is for Sharon to devote her expertise to helping survivors of all forms of gender violence. Prior to assuming this position, Sharon served as Co-chair of the PBC’s LGBTQ Committee. She was integral in helping establish a Saturday walk-in legal clinic for LGBTQ youth at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, with which she remains actively involved.

As the new Co-chair, Sharon hopes to continue the incredible work that Mia and Louisa have been doing since 2016 and 2018, respectively. In the coming year, she will focus on giving PBC members the opportunity to further engage with Sanctuary for Families by going to Albany to participate in advocacy efforts, drafting comments to be submitted by Sanctuary in rule-making processes, hosting a client or cultivation event, and contributing more time and funding when possible.

Please join us in welcoming Sharon as PBC Co-Chair!

Get Involved

The PBC welcomes all professionals committed to helping victims of gender-based violence who are interested in supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary. Every other month, the PBC hosts full membership meetings on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 9:00 PM in Midtown.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Sanctuary and its pro bono work should attend a PBC meeting to see this dynamic group of professionals in action – and to get involved themselves!

Please contact PBCinfo@sffny.org to learn more about joining the PBC.

Learn more about our Pro Bono Program.