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.

Our Statement: The “Remain in Mexico” Policy Leaves Survivors More Vulnerable to Violence

The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our overburdened and broken immigration system.

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

Sanctuary for Families urges Congress to intervene to stop the Trump Administration from implementing its “Remain in Mexico” policy. The rollout of this cruel policy is further endangering the lives of countless gender violence survivors, among others, who have fled violence in their countries of origin and is causing chaos within our dysfunctional immigration system.

According to the plan, which DHS began to implement on January 25th, most refugees who reach the U.S.-Mexico border seeking protection in the United States will be required to stay in Mexico while they wait for their first hearing in a U.S. immigration court. 

The Impact

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen calls this a  “humanitarian approach” to address the crisis at the border, but there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable families will suffer under these new protocols. Refugees from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala often face violence and persecution so severe that it leaves them with no choice but to embark on a treacherous journey through Mexico to the U.S. Many of them are women and children fleeing gender-based harm. By requiring these families who have already proven “credible fear” to remain in Mexico while they await their immigration court date, we are putting families at risk of further violence.

The stated policy includes an exception for Mexican nationals, unaccompanied children, and refugees who can demonstrate that they are more likely than not to face persecution or torture in Mexico. In practice, however, it will be nearly impossible for migrants who have only been in Mexico for a short time to articulate a greater-than-50% likelihood of persecution or torture, simply due to the fact that such a determination requires knowledge of conditions throughout the country.

Chaos in the Courts

According to DHS, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will be implemented first at the San Ysidro port of entry which connects Tijuana, Mexico to San Diego, CA. Rolling out this new policy at one of the busiest land border crossings in the world would be a logistical nightmare under normal circumstances but the Trump Administration’s decision to do so following the conclusion of the longest government shutdown in our country’s history is certain to cause chaos. Immigration courts across the country have been closed for the last month, including the non-detained court in San Diego. The result in San Diego is a backlog that has ballooned to over 800,000 pending immigration cases.

Beyond the case backlog, the “Remain in Mexico” policy will only add to the chaos at the Tijuana-San Ysidro border itself. Refugees will likely miss their court dates in the United States due solely to the logistical hurdles of transporting them across an international border and getting them to a courthouse in the United States in time for their hearings.

Congress Must Act

There is a crisis in the U.S. immigration system, but it is not the crisis that the Trump Administration has described in the context of his administration’s recent border proposals. Congress should demand an immediate halt to the “Remain in Mexico” policy and the “Migrant Protection Protocols” that followed. These policies violate our international and domestic law obligations to protect those who flee to our border seeking protection. The United States must return to the rule of law to ensure that we remain a safe haven for survivors of gender-based harm and others who flee to the U.S. for protection because they have no other options.

Sanctuary is Taking Action

Sanctuary for Families is a leading provider of immigration legal services for survivors of gender-based harm. We are based in New York City where many refugees, survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable immigrants, receive our life-saving services every day.  Over the next two weeks, we will be sending two delegations of immigration attorneys to Tijuana where they will provide legal and humanitarian assistance to migrants, including survivors of gender-based harm, who will be disproportionally impacted by this new policy.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to receive updates from the border, and please consider donating if you would like to provide financial support to sustain this life-saving work.

Thank you for your support for Sanctuary for Families, and for the immigrant survivors of violence who rely on our services.

Gender Violence Survivors Seeking Asylum Need Our Protection

Last week, President Trump addressed the nation to warn of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” His administration’s rhetoric and immigration policies are endangering the lives of survivors of gender violence. Read our statement.

On Tuesday night, President Trump used his address to the nation to argue for a border wall that he says will make our nation safer. Sanctuary for Families believes that the President’s statement failed to address the deep-rooted issues in our immigration system and instead, focused on policies that would further harm and endanger refugees and other vulnerable immigrants, including survivors of gender-based violence.

At Sanctuary, we work with gender violence survivors, 70% of whom are immigrants. Many are seeking asylum due to extreme intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and/or death threats they experienced in their home countries. Some have been tricked or forced into the U.S. by traffickers. Some come directly to New York. Others have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, itself dangerous and re-traumatizing, and eventually, make it to New York where organizations like Sanctuary can help.

For those currently stuck on the Mexican side of the border, however, the consequences can be deadly. Due to the Administration’s new metering system, thousands of adults and children, most of whom are seeking asylum, will have to wait weeks, even months, before making their plea for protection in the U.S. Sleeping on streets or in over-crowded migrant shelters, their desperation and fear only increase, and they become more vulnerable to the kind of violence they fled in the first place.

To be clear, seeking asylum at any of our borders is not illegal. Turning asylum seekers away, however, is a cruel violation of international law. We need policies that protect survivors of gender violence seeking refuge within our borders and provide clear pathways to legal status, not ones that scapegoat immigrant communities and use their lives as political tools. To these ends, Sanctuary is taking action.

Every day, Sanctuary provides free high-quality legal representation to ensure that immigrant gender violence survivors receive the committed advocacy they need to present their best case for immigration status. Here in New York, we advocate for State legislation to better protect our immigrant communities and deepen our partnerships with fellow immigration agencies. Across the country, we partner with advocates to push for a functional immigration system and rational border policy.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served survivors of gender violence regardless of immigration status. As we enter the New Year, we reaffirm our long-held commitment to our immigrant communities both here in New York and across the border. Thank you for standing with us.

Warmly,

Hon. Judy H. Kluger
Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families