Our statement on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing of the End Child Sex Trafficking Act

For over a year, Sanctuary staff, survivors, and supporters advocated for the removal of the coercion provision in New York’s trafficking law which forced child victims testify in court. In August 2018, Governor Cuomo signed the End Child Sex Trafficking Act into law.


New law relieves prosecutors of the burden of having to prove that a child sex trafficking victim was coerced into having sex

Advocates join Gov. Cuomo for the bill signing. Sanctuary’s Legal Center Director, Dorchen Leidholdt, stands third from left.

(New York – August 15, 2018)Sanctuary for Families (Sanctuary), New York State’s largest dedicated service provider and advocate for victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence, today applauded Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing into law the “End Child Sex Trafficking Act” – a measure that relieves prosecutors of the burden of having to prove that a child was coerced into prostitution in order to in order to convict that child’s exploiter of sex trafficking.

Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, stated,

“This law is the result of the powerful advocacy of a diverse coalition of survivors, their families, advocates, and faith-based leaders, determined to protect our most marginalized and brutalized children and hold their exploiters accountable.”

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families said,

“This year alone, hundreds of thousands of children in the United States will be subjected to or at risk of sex trafficking. With the enactment of the End Child Sex Trafficking Act, New York has taken a major step forward to eradicate this scourge.  Prosecutors can now build strong cases against those who traffic children without forcing the children to testify and relive the devastating trauma. Sanctuary for Families applauds Governor Cuomo’s decision to sign this bill into law. We are also deeply grateful to the bill sponsors, Assembly Member Amy Paulin and Senator Andrew Lanza, for their unrelenting commitment to protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Judge Kluger also commended the team at Sanctuary for Families for their tireless advocacy on this issue.

Prior to enactment of this measure, prosecutors in New York could not build successful cases against traffickers of children unless the child victim was willing and able to testify. The trauma children suffer as a result of sex trafficking and their terror of retaliation from their traffickers often prevented child victims from testifying.

The End Child Sex Trafficking Law creates an affirmative defense for all sex trafficking victims.  New York now aligns with federal law and the other 49 states, which do not require that prosecutors prove coercion in sex trafficking cases when the victims are minors.

Children are major targets of human traffickers, who pursue them because they are vulnerable and because sex buyers demand children. Estimates suggest that each year at least 100,000 U.S.-born children become victims of sex trafficking. From 2000-2010, service providers in the New York City metropolitan area reported working with nearly 12,000 human trafficking survivors, many of whom were children.

Recognizing Yuqing Wang: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Yuqing is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

As an international student at NYU, Yuqing Wang was curious about life in New York City outside her campus and searched for volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch.com where she found Sanctuary for Families.

As a native Mandarin speaker, Yuqing utilizes her language skills as a volunteer interpreter for Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Program (QTIPP). In this role, Yuqing supports Sanctuary staff, pro bono attorneys, and clients every Friday at Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court by providing interpretation for client intakes and screenings.

“Interpretation for our clients is not as simple as translating words from one language to another,” explains Lauren Chung, Administrative Assistant, Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

“Many of the clients within the QTIPP program are vulnerable immigrants from East Asia and it is very difficult for them to recount experiences of abuse and trauma.”

Despite this, Yuqing approaches these intakes with extreme sensitivity and she becomes the client’s voice for the duration of the intake. “I can recall many cases in which a client walked into the office nervous and walked out with a smile on their faces. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about volunteering,” Yuqing explains.

In just over a year of volunteering at Sanctuary, Yuqing has translated for over 60 client intakes, working with over 50 pro bono attorneys from Sanctuary’s law firm partners. As an experienced trauma-sensitive interpreter, Yuqing has also been assisting the Anti-Trafficking Initiative with developing an interpreter training for future volunteers.

Yuqing’s talents have not gone unnoticed by Sanctuary staff:

“We have come to rely on Yuqing’s insightfulness – if there’s an intake that we anticipate will be particularly sensitive, we do our best to have Yuqing interpret for that intake, trusting that her presence will ease the client.”

For Yuqing, volunteering at Sanctuary has been rewarding both personally and professionally. One thing Yuqing did not expect was the relationships she would develop with other people working on the project:

“I met Maggy last year, who is a retired lawyer and we have collaborated many times. She was incredibly kind and was happy to share her experiences with me and give me advice. If not for this volunteer opportunity, I would never have gained this friendship.”

Yuqing always brings the focus of any conversation about her work back to the clients she works with. For Yuqing, the most rewarding part of her work is ‘seeing that someone in difficulty is more relieved after our interview’.

We sincerely thank Yuqing for her compassion, sensitivity, and insight and hope she will continue working with Sanctuary for a long time to come.

We look forward to celebrating Yuqing and four other amazing volunteers at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018! You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now. We hope to see you there!

7 Perspectives on Prostitution the New York Times Didn’t Publish

Last weekend, NYT Magazine asked: “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” but excluded the viewpoints of survivors who know firsthand the deep harm perpetuated by the commercial sex industry.

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine’s cover feature asked the question: “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” 

The article courted controversy and failed to include the viewpoints of survivors, activists and service providers who know firsthand the deep harm and gender inequality perpetuated by the commercial sex industry. 

Today, the Times published letters in response to the article. Here are a few letters that didn’t make the LTE page, among them critically important perspectives from survivors that were left out:

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?

If the small group of privileged “sex workers” highlighted in Bazelon’s article have their way, and prostitution is decriminalized around the world, every boy will grow up knowing it¹s acceptable to buy a body whenever he feels the urge. The result? The market for flesh will grow, delivering a windfall to traffickers and pimps and putting millions more women and girls in harm’s way. The standard PR line of the commercial sex industry is that we in the anti-trafficking community “conflate” consensual prostitution with trafficking. No, we don’t. Prostitution is the marketplace and trafficking is a primary way that product is delivered to buyers. It’s economics 101. Grow the market and trafficking increases.

Bazelon blithely disregards the harm inherent in prostitution. I’ve seen it up close, having been Director of the Human Rights Clinic at Mount Sinai. The stories from survivors of the sex trade are horrific. The violence in prostitution is staggering. The resulting physical and mental health problems are crushing. We need to adopt the Nordic model, which decriminalizes the prostituted person but criminalizes the traffickers, pimps and buyers. Creating an open market place for the use and abuse of women and girls (and men and boys) would be one of the most shocking human rights violations of our time.

Holly G. Atkinson, MD, FACP, FAMWA
Co-Director, Physicians Against the Trafficking of Humans,
American Medical Women’s Association
Past President, Physicians for Human Rights

To The Editor:

We are writing in response Emily Bazelon’s Should Prostitution Be A Crime? We are young, feminist and proud of our sexuality yet horrified by society’s continued commodification of it. As a community of dedicated high school activists who work alongside teen survivors of the sex trade, we have seen first hand the damaging, lifelong impact of commercial sexual exploitation.

Our generation wants progress, yet Amnesty and others respond with laziness. We want to move forward toward gender equality, well, the decriminalizing of pimping and buying would only push us back. Legitimizing the “oldest profession”–a profession of the patriarchy–is not progress, it’s giving up. We’d like “human rights” organizations and journalists to stop trying to selling us on the selling of our bodies. Instead of “regulating” oppression and passing it off as a “profession,” be the leaders we deserve, and end it!


The members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company

To the Editor,

Since 1990, I have worked with thousands of prostituted women and girls. Unlike the woman highlighted in the photo spread of “Should Prostitution Be Legal” (May 5, 2016), the vast majority of people I have worked with have been  African American women and girls and have stated that if they had any choice but prostitution, they would leave “the life” immediately.

In prostitution, purchasers don’t care about the pleasure or pain of the purchased. She exists as a hand, mouth, genitals, anus – not a human being. Sex buyers pay for the right to direct her to do whatever brings him to orgasm, no matter how humiliating the act. She is paid to play out the fantasy that she has power. In reality, she has none.

We can and should remove penalties imposed on people in prostitution, while implementing laws that hold pimps and buyers accountable. The women used in prostitution deserve our support, but we cannot continue to tolerate or promote this exploitive institution.

Vednita Carter
Founder and President, Breaking Free
Minneapolis, Minn

Re: the New York Times Magazine cover story Should Prostitution Be a Crime.

As a former judge and prosecutor, and now as the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, I have seen thousands of victims who have been exploited in the sex trade. Many of them were lured in by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them with few options.

Ms. Bazelon inexplicably omits the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants. Instead, her primary focus is on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker” as reflected in the cover photo, which creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender inequality and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking. People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services. If we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry will continue to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger
Executive Director
Sanctuary for Families

To the Editor:
Re: Should Prostitution be a Crime?

Emily Bazelon ‘s piece ““Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” makes a case for listening to the voices of those who have actually experienced the commercial sex industry. Unfortunately the voices left out of this piece are the women and girls who have not viewed this as ‘sex work’ but violent exploitation, the experiences of those under pimp control, (over 90 percent of the 400 plus girls and young women GEMS serves annually are or have been under the control of a pimp) and the hundreds of women who have now begun to step out of the shadows to publicly identify as ‘survivors’ of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

These voices are overwhelmingly the voices of girls and young women of color, (the slide show is clearly overwhelmingly white women), of runaway and homeless youth, of women trapped in addiction and poverty. While the anti-trafficking movement can often over simplify or sensationalize these stories, the truth is both more nuanced and more horrific than any well-intentioned awareness campaign that isn’t survivor led or survivor informed.

As a survivor myself and having founded and run GEMS for 18 years, I’m aware that there are no easy solutions to this issue but at least the NYT could have provided a more balanced view by actually including the voices of those young people who are already marginalized and who view the sex industry as inherently violent and harmful, preying upon the most vulnerable in our society.

Rachel Lloyd
Founder and CEO
Girls Educational and Mentoring Services

To the Editors of The NY Times;

I am writing in response to Emily Blazelon piece “Should prostitution be a crime?” As a survivor of exploitation and a front line worker, I was disheartened at this one-sided piece.

I have worked with hundreds of women and girls caught up in the vicious cycle of indignity, pain and hurt. 82% of prostituted women have experienced childhood traumas, sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse,poverty. Many survivors sell sex and out of desperation label it “choice.” But to have “choice”, you must have options. Most of these women and girls do not.

In Canada, 51% of trafficked women and girls in Canada are Indigenous, like me. Many are lured into the sex trade as young children. The age is even younger if the parent is in prostitution.

If Ms. Bazelon thinks that prostitution is legitimate “work” then she should put down her pen and give prostitution a try. I bet after she learned the real truths about the disgusting men who feel privileged to buy sex, the next article she wrote would directly contradict this one.

Bridget Perrier
Co-Founder/First Nations Educator

To the Editor:

Contrary to Emily Bazelon’s claim in NYT Magazine (5/8), there was ample “recorded data on street prostitution” before Sweden’s criminalization of buyers and decriminalizing of prostituted persons. The decline is actually by more that 50% since 1999 — not just “as much as 50%” — and it is well documented by several independent sources.

Moreover, she omits that while online prostitution ads increased in Sweden, they increased much more in neighboring countries alongside increasing street prostitution, leading researchers around 2007 to estimate numbers of prostituted women as about 15 times higher per capita in Denmark and 9 times higher per capita in Norway compared to Sweden.

Compared to the rest of Europe, sex trafficking almost never happens in Sweden anymore. Bazelon focuses only on the law’s critics, ignoring prostituted women who have explained how the law empowered them to report buyers treating them badly, and who reject her claim that prostitution became more dangerous. She also omits research showing how legal brothels tacitly permit unsafe and dangerous sex since buyers have the upper hand and often want sex that others refuse them, while prostituted persons overwhelmingly have no other options.

Max Waltman
Assistant Professor, Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden

Prostitution is a root cause of gender violence. Let’s end it now.

Why put an end to prostitution? Far from being a job, prostitution is exploitative, harmful, and perpetuates gender inequality.

This week the New York Times Magazine featured the cover story “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?”

The article suggests that people in prostitution are helped by the wholesale decriminalization of the sex trade, including pimping and sex buying.

This position flies in the face of our work assisting thousands of survivors of sex trafficking. Far from being a job like any other, prostitution is almost invariably a condition of gender exploitation and frequently a violent and lethally dangerous form of abuse inextricably connected to sex trafficking.

Each day we work with survivors who share their histories of abuse and exploitation in the sex trade. Many of them were lured into it by pimps and traffickers, most as children. Others have ended up in prostitution when conditions of extreme poverty and prior sexual abuse leave them traumatized and with few options.

Ms. Bazelon’s omission of the experience of these victims, almost exclusively women and girls of color and undocumented immigrants, and her focus instead on the comparatively privileged, adult, mostly white “sex worker,” creates a falsely benign picture of the world’s most brutal industry.

Also omitted is the fact that prostituted and trafficked girls and women rarely reap the economic benefits of their exploitation–and by the time their economic value in the sex trade has expired are with rare exceptions physically, psychologically, and economically devastated.

Our clients’ experiences are the basis of our conviction that commercial sexual exploitation is one of the root causes of gender inequality and that we need to eliminate it, not simply try to mitigate the harm suffered by its victims.

People in prostitution should not be criminalized and must be provided with services to get out of poverty and escape exploitation. That’s why Sanctuary is growing our Economic Empowerment Program so that even more survivors can find a path to living wage, career-track work.

We contend, however, that when we fail to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, the sex trafficking industry continues to expand, destroying the lives of new generations of victims.

We are saddened that the voices of our clients were not included in this article. The author rejected our offer to share their experience with her. We were not alone. Many of our partner organizations, who have vast experience serving prostituted and trafficked people, were not consulted by Ms. Bazelon.

At Sanctuary, we believe that failing to hold traffickers, pimps and buyers accountable, is not progressive but harmful and dangerous to the women, men, and children we serve.

We believe that they deserve safe harbor and a world without exploitation.