New York Courts Steering Women Away from the Sex Trade

New York State is creating a statewide system of specialized criminal courts to handle prostitution cases and provide services to help wrest human- and sex-trafficking victims from the cycle of exploitation and arrest. The initiative is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

“Human trafficking is a crime that inflicts terrible harm on the most vulnerable members of society: victims of abuse, the poor, children, runaways, immigrants,” Judge Lippman said. “It is in every sense a form of modern-day slavery. We cannot tolerate this practice in a civilized society, nor can we afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks of our justice system.”

The new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will handle all cases involving prostitution-related offenses that continue past arraignment, chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said. Cases will be evaluated by the judge, defense lawyer and prosecutor, and if they agree, the court will refer defendants to services like drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance and health care, as well as education and job training, in an effort to keep them from returning to the sex trade.

The consensus was also reflected by three laws passed by the New York Legislature in recent years, including the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, which criminalizes sex and labor trafficking; the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, under which anyone younger than 18 who is arrested on prostitution charges is treated as “a sexually exploited child”; and a law that allows trafficking victims to have their prostitution convictions vacated.

The new courts, one in each of New York City’s five boroughs and six others situated from Long Island to Buffalo, will all be functioning by the end of October, Judge Lippman said. They will handle 95 percent of the thousands of cases each year in which people are charged with prostitution and human trafficking offenses.

Learn more at William K. Rashbaum’s The New York Times article: With Special Courts, State Aims to Steer Women Away From Sex Trade.

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