Trafficking is a crime that can intersect with domestic violence. Many domestic violence advocates have encountered trafficking victims in their practice and often find that there are similarities between the victims of both crimes, including isolation from support systems and reluctance to self-identify. In 2007, the NYS Anti-Human Trafficking Law was enacted to assist trafficking victims and penalize traffickers.
An Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking was created to assist in the implementation of the new law, including educating the law enforcement, advocacy, and legal communities. The Task Force, co-chair by the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) released its first report in August 2008.
This Q&A was conducted with OTDA Human Trafficking Program Coordinator Christa Stewart (CS) and DCJS Deputy Commissioner and Special Counsel Mary Kavaney (MK).
Q: What is human trafficking?
CS: Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Under
NYS law, trafficking is the act of forced labor or sexual
servitude under specific means for the benefit of the
perpetrator. Ways traffickers may control victims include
restricting their movements and psychological manipulation,
including threats to hurt family members or expose the victim to
law enforcement. Trafficking happens domestically as well as
MK: Methods used to exploit victims that might constitute trafficking under NYS law include: the use of force, withholding the victim’s identification documents, making someone pay off a debt by engaging in prostitution, or giving someone drugs to get them into (or keep them in) prostitution.
Q: Can you explain the NYS anti-human trafficking law?
MK: The law addresses human trafficking in three critical ways: with new Penal Law crimes that specifically target the methods used by traffickers to exploit their victims; with mechanisms to facilitate the delivery of social services to trafficking victims; and with the creation of an Interagency Task Force to coordinate implementation of the new laws, collect data on the extent of trafficking, and assess the State’s efforts in fighting trafficking and protecting victims.
Q: How does the NYS trafficking law differ from the federal trafficking law?
MK:The NYS law applies to both U.S. citizens and
foreign-born individuals, while the federal law applies only to
foreign-born individuals. Both laws prohibit sex and labor
trafficking using force, fraud, or coercion, but the NYS law has
broader application for other means used by traffickers and does
not require movement of the victim, as is required under federal
law. For example, the first person indicted under the NYS law
was a Queens, NY man accused of forcing a 16 year old NYC girl to
perform sexual acts for his financial benefit by intimidating and
threatening to murder her.
Q: How has the NYS law changed how traffickers are penalized?
MK: The law provides for significant sentences of imprisonment for offenders convicted of sex or labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is a class B felony with a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment. Labor trafficking is a class D felony with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. In addition, the lowest level patronizing a prostitute offense was increased from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor.
Q: What services are available to trafficking victims in New York? How are they accessed?
CS: The NYS anti-trafficking statute provides services for those who would normally be able to access government assistance, as well as victims of trafficking who would be otherwise ineligible. People who are confirmed to be trafficking victims by New York State will be assisted under the NYS Response to Human Trafficking Program (RHTP). This programconsists of six regional agencies that are encouraged to develop relationships with other providers in their area so that services such as shelter, legal services, psychological support, and medical care can be offered. The Social Services Law also provides for victims of trafficking who are otherwise eligible to receive social services to be referred to the Local District Social Services (LDSS).