Legislation would remove proof of coercion in child sex trafficking cases

Victims of child sex trafficking would no longer be required to prove coercion in court if efforts to pass new legislation are successful.

The bill (S.5988a/A.6823b) is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Great Kills. If passed and signed, individuals who profit from prostituting a child under the age of 18 would be charged with sex trafficking.

Federal laws, and the laws of 48 other states, do not require child victims to prove coercion. Only New York State and Alabama have laws that do so. If passed, “a person is guilty of sex trafficking of a child when he or she intentionally advances or profits from prostitution of another person and such other person is a child less than eighteen years old,” according to the bill memo.

The bill passed the Senate on May 8 and has been stuck in the Assembly Codes Committee since January.

Assemblymembers, advocates and victims held a press conference to call attention to the legislation earlier this month.

Shanifa Bennett, a 21-year-old victim of sex trafficking, told her story of being 17, “homeless and desperate for a roof over my head and money for food and clothes.” Bennett met an older man online who told her he would be able to help her make money.

Bennett was subjected to 10-15 johns — a term for men who pay for sex — a night. Her pimps often beat her and took her money.  

“Sex trafficking of a minor should be a violent felony crime just like rape,” Bennett said. “Actually, sex trafficking is rape. Not just one time but over and over; 10-15 times a night.”

The Rev. Que English, founder and CEO of Not On My Watch, a human trafficking awareness nonprofit, emphasized that communities of color are most affected. Children in foster care and children who are homeless or live in impoverished neighborhoods are those most vulnerable and targeted.

English said this legislation would alleviate the legal burden on victims and parents and end revictimization.

“There is no weighing and balancing. There is no time to play politics with our children,” English said.

Assemblyman Errigo

Assemblyman Joe Errigo, R-Conesus, was brought to tears at the thought of four young girls who he had once met. The girls were forced into prostitution by their traffickers. Errigo recalled a story of one girl who who hid money under her fake hair. Once the pimp discovered this, he burned her hair and killed her in front of the other girls.  

Errigo has agreed to become a cosponsor of the bill and it  has been referred to the Codes Committee.