NY Must Do More for People in Prostitution, but Full Decriminalization Is Not The Answer

Our statement regarding the recently-introduced bill aimed at fully decriminalizing the sex industry in New York.

As service providers, advocates, and survivor leaders, we believe that people bought and sold in the sex trade should not be arrested, prosecuted, or criminalized. Though Senator Salazar’s and Assembly Member Gottfried’s bill (S.6419/A.8230) does decriminalize prostitution for victims of the sex trade, it also decriminalizes the most heinous and exploitative elements of this industry: sex buying and pimping. For this reason, Sanctuary for Families strongly opposes this bill. We urge legislators and advocates to dig deeper before supporting legislation that will promote pimping, sex buying, and the expansion of the sex industry.

Prostitution causes severe long term psychological and physical harm. An estimated 90% of people in prostitution in the United States are trafficked. Decriminalizing the system of prostitution would, in effect, sanction human trafficking because it would decriminalize all components of the sex trade. It would render illegal businesses, currently run by organized crime, legal. Brothel and illicit massage parlor owners would be deemed bonafide business owners or managers, and the profits they make off the sale of the bodies of women, children, the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups would be legitimized.

We are better than this. We must ensure victims are protected, but cannot do so while extending the same protections to sex traffickers. Unfortunately, this bill does not take this nuanced approach, and it, therefore, should not become law in New York.

Warmly,

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

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

ECPAT-USA

Equality Now

Graham Windham

Mentari

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

The Truth About Human Trafficking & the Wall

President Trump has made many misleading and uninformed claims as he advocates for a wall at the southern border. We thought you should know the truth about modern-day slavery.

Watch on CNN: Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, respond to President Trump’s statements: https://cnn.it/2TjrAZp 


Over the past weeks, President Trump has repeatedly brought up human trafficking as he argues in favor of building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. The majority of his statements on the subject, however, have been either misleading or unfounded.

At Sanctuary for Families, we know from our clients’ experiences and from fellow anti-trafficking experts across the country that the reality of modern-day slavery is different from that described by the President. For this reason, we’re debunking five of the President’s most frequent claims about human trafficking:

1. Trump’s Claim: Human trafficking cannot be stopped without a steel barrier or concrete wall.

Many women and children attempting to cross the border are fleeing sexual violence and trafficking in their own countries, and seeking asylum in the U.S. — Shutting them out of our country makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.


2. Building a wall at the border will keep traffickers out of the United States.

Many U.S. citizens are involved in the sex trade and traffickers entering the U.S. through the southern border often do so lawfully.


3. Stricter immigration policies and tighter border security will stop human trafficking.

In the U.S., immigrants — particularly those who are undocumented — are at a much higher risk of exploitation than nonimmigrants.

By criminalizing immigrant communities, President Trump’s policies are pushing trafficking survivors deeper into the shadows and limiting law enforcement’s ability to investigate trafficking-related crimes.


4. Undocumented immigrants are criminals and bring violence to our communities.

Studies have shown that undocumented immigrants are considerably less likely to commit crimes compared to U.S.-born citizens.

In reality, most undocumented people crossing the southern border are fleeing horrific violence, including gender violence and sex trafficking, in their home countries.


5. Trafficking victims are immigrants from other countries who have been brought here unlawfully.

A very large number of victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in this country are U.S. citizens and never cross any borders at all.


Building the wall will not stop human trafficking. If President Trump really wanted to protect trafficking victims, he would listen to experts, push for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and increase the number of available T visas.

 

Sanctuary staff contribute to New York Times article on illicit massage parlor industry

When Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Dan Barry began his investigation into the tragic death of Song Yang, a Chinese woman ensnared in the illicit massage parlor industry, he turned to our Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI).

Lori Cohen is the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. 

When Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Dan Barry began his investigation into the tragic death of Song Yang, a Chinese woman ensnared in the illicit massage parlor industry, he turned to Sanctuary for Families’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative (ATI). Interviewing ATI’s Manager of Outreach Yvonne Chen a dozen times over an eight-month period, as well as myself, “The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail,” published as a special Sunday Times report in mid-October of 2018, is a heartbreaking portrait of a life extinguished too soon.

Barry reached out to Sanctuary because the Anti-Trafficking Initiative has gained renown for its ability to identify trafficking survivors and provide comprehensive services to individuals seeking to escape the commercial sex industry. Our staff of Mandarin and Korean-speaking attorneys and case managers have been instrumental in educating law enforcement, service providers, and advocates on the cultural, political, and economic factors that trap East Asian women in the commercial sex trade.

With our pro bono partners, ATI has served some one thousand immigrant women referred for consultations through New York City’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts. Additionally, Sanctuary staff have conducted direct outreach to Chinese and Korean women in massage parlors throughout New York City, advising them of their legal rights, including their right to be free of violence inflicted by the men purchasing them for sex.

While ATI was privileged to serve as a key resource for Barry’s investigative report, we are deeply saddened by a lost opportunity to meet “Jane Doe Ponytail”. Following an earlier arrest, the Human Trafficking Intervention Court had referred her to Sanctuary for a consultation. Sadly, she died the week before her scheduled appointment. In reading of her loneliness and sense of futility, we only wish that our team had been able to provide her with the help she so desperately needed. Her loss has spurred us to redouble our efforts in the hopes of helping the many other individuals like Song Yang to become free from commercial sexual exploitation.

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to read this important piece.