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

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.

 

Davis Polk Attorneys Help Trafficking Victim Tell Her Story, Secure T-Visa, and Aid in the Successful Prosecution of Her Traffickers

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. Read to learn more.

Sam Zeidman is a Software Developer at Red Rabbit, LLC in New York. From 2012 through 2017 he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in the Litigation Department.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. The team consisted of former associate Lisa Doolittle, Associates Hanbing Zhang and Iris Hsiao, Partner Po Sit, and Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz.

A Nexus of Vulnerability: From Domestic Abuse to Trafficking

Jie was living in China, married with children to an abusive husband. After their divorce her ex-husband took custody of their children because Jie lacked the financial resources to raise them. Jie sought employment so that she could earn money to win back custody of her children. She found what she thought was a promising job cleaning houses in the U.S. Despite not speaking English and having no connections in the U.S., she took the job.

Upon arrival in the U.S., it immediately became clear to Jie that the job she was promised was a sham. Instead, she was expected to engage in sexual acts in hotels and massage parlors. From the moment of entry to the U.S., every aspect of Jie’s life was controlled by her traffickers; unable to speak the language and with no one to reach out to, she felt helpless.

Despite the painful and frightening circumstances, Jie persisted in seeking a way out and never gave up hope that she would one day escape her traffickers.

After an Arrest, Another Legal Avenue

Jie was arrested on vice charges and was referred to New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where she was referred to Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project (QTIPP) that, among other things, allowed her to meet with lawyers to discuss possible legal and immigration options.

Lisa Doolittle and Hanbing Zhang were the QTIPP volunteer attorneys for Jie’s legal consultation. Doolittle credits Zhang, a native Mandarin speaker, for forging a strong connection in a short time, which helped them gather enough information to determine that Jie was a good candidate for a T-Visa and quickly volunteered to represent her.  Lori L. Cohen, the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, supervised the team and agreed Jie had a compelling case:

“This is a woman who was clearly trafficked, promised a job that didn’t exist, charged fictitious fees, kidnapped, held in a hotel, and raped by men paying to have sex when she did not agree.”

After an extensive series of meetings with Jie to establish their relationship, the DPW team began to advocate on her behalf as she cooperated with law enforcement into the investigation, arrest and prosecution of her traffickers, an emotionally challenging process. Sharon Katz noted that Jie “was initially very wary, even distrustful” of her new attorneys, understandable given her situation.

In addition to participating as a victim-witness in the criminal case, she was skeptical about the US immigration system, particularly the T-Visa process; like many other victims, she already had engaged an attorney who had filed an asylum application and said it was making progress. As Doolittle put it, “In her mind, why would attorneys who worked for free be high quality attorneys, especially compared to her paid attorney who repeatedly assured her he was making advancements in her asylum case?” (The team did not believe the asylum claim would prevail. Cohen said it was common for unscrupulous attorneys to charge women like Jie exorbitant fees up front but deliver very little. Because of the fees, women are drawn deeper in debt and may feel they need to continue working at massage parlors in order to pay it off.)

Meanwhile, the T-Visa process took time and required Jie to share information about some of the worst experiences of her life in great detail and to overcome cultural norms against speaking out about one’s bosses and revealing shameful events.  Moreover, she worried about retribution.

Patience and Persistence from Attorneys and Client

Over the course of a year, with great perseverance, the DPW team gradually gained Jie’s trust. Cohen said the team’s approach was key to making her comfortable with the process.

“They treated her with dignity, respect, patience, and compassion. Their humanity for this woman really came through as they quickly put together a strong, moving, powerful application.”

For their part, the attorneys believe Jie herself deserves most of the credit. Zhang stated,

“She was hesitant to share her story but also believed it was wrong for women to be treated as she was. She had a strong sense of justice and felt that the situation could not go on forever.”

Jie’s T-Visa application was eventually granted and her traffickers convicted.  The effect on Jie was noticeable. Katz said,

“A different part of her came through. She was smiling and outgoing, a change from the initial meetings.”

Iris Hsiao, who is working on the derivative visas for Jie’s children, noted that,

“[Jie] seems extremely hopeful and has more confidence in the process. Before she thought the application was pointless and would take forever, but she saw that waiting paid off in the end.”

As Doolittle put it,

“A burden was lifted. She has T-visa status and no longer has to live every day with the fear over her head that she will be sent back to China.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Davis Polk team’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

Stroock Team Comes to the Rescue of Labor Trafficking Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP for their brilliant and effective advocacy on behalf of “Diane.” The Stroock team worked tirelessly to help Diane not only apply for legal status but also negotiated with law enforcement to ensure Diane received the legal restitution she deserved.

Neda Hassanzadeh is a graduate student at Columbia University.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP for their brilliant and effective advocacy on behalf of “Diane.”  The Stroock team worked tirelessly to help Diane not only apply for legal status but also negotiated with law enforcement to ensure Diane received the legal restitution she deserved.

 This dedicated team included partners Kevin Curnin and Claude Szyfer, and associates Joy Baskin, Ben Smyser, and Jonathan Konig.

The Dream of Coming to America Turns into a Nightmare

Diane came to the United States from Nigeria under the impression that she would be working for a wealthy and powerful Nigerian family to fulfill their housekeeping needs.  Much to her dismay, her documents and all of her money were taken from her upon arrival. A heartless husband-wife team of labor traffickers worked her nearly to exhaustion and serious illness, forbidding her from leaving the home and paying her very little and inconsistently, sometimes not even paying her at all.

Diane worked for her traffickers for five long years. Due to the horrendous labor conditions, Diane developed pitting edema and started coughing up blood. The family took her to the hospital a few times, but kept her under close watch. They threatened that if she said anything about her working conditions, she would get deported.

One day she asked the husband, “What happens to people who get sick and don’t have papers?”  He looked at her and sternly responded, “They die.” At that moment, Diane very bravely decided that she was not going to die like this. And so, she planned her escape.

A Plan of Escape Gone Awry

After five long years of maltreatment, Diane fled to a neighbor’s home and revealed everything the family had done to her.  From there, she was sent to a shelter but she ended up being moved to the home of a friend of her traffickers.  Unsurprisingly, her traffickers were quickly alerted to her presence. Thanks to the quick work of Diane’s caseworker, Diane was able to escape to a safe shelter.

Stroock Steps In

Partner Kevin Curnin founded the Public Service Project at Stroock 16 years ago and has been working with Sanctuary for Families for years. When Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, brought Diane’s case to Curnin’s attention, he quickly assembled a team.

Kevin, Claude, Joy, Ben, and Jonathan got to work immediately. The committed and dedicated pro bono attorneys put in many hours gaining Diane’s trust and preparing her for meetings with law enforcement. Thanks to their work and Diane’s cooperation, prosecutors were able to secure a guilty plea from her traffickers. A guilty plea would have been a great victory in and of itself, but the Stroock team went even further and ensured that the prosecutors put safeguards into place requiring upfront payment of a portion of the monetary restitution owed to their client as part of the plea deal.  Lori Cohen enthused,

“This legal team is tenacious! While other teams would have rightly been proud to help secure a guilty plea from a husband-wife team of heartless labor traffickers, Stroock went the extra mile in ensuring that their formerly enslaved client got true justice in the form of compensation.”

 Since the conclusion of the criminal case, the Stroock team has filed a T nonimmigrant status application for Diane, so she can have long-term legal status in the United States. Diane is enjoying her life as a freed person and now spends her Sundays at church attending services and volunteering, an experience Diane’s captors took away from her.

Reflecting on her experience working with Diane, Joy Baskin said,

“It’s been a labor of love—long and very hard, but it’s been wonderful.  In these projects, you feel like you’re getting more than you’re giving.  Our client is a wonderful, wonderful woman.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Stroock team’s outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event here.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.