State lawmakers and Governor Eliot Spitzer said Wednesday that they had agreed to make labor- and sex-trafficking felonies, breaking a deadlock on an issue many thought should have been resolved long ago.
Although there are federal laws against human trafficking — essentially a modern form of slavery — some state lawmakers and advocacy groups say they are insufficient. Federal law enforcement has focused mostly on the largest criminal trafficking rings, rather than smaller operations like sweatshops and brothels, advocacy groups say.
Moreover, although local law enforcement officials are most likely to stumble across victims of trafficking, the advocacy groups say, the absence of a state trafficking law has provided little incentive for local prosecutors to tackle such cases.
“New York is finally joining the ranks of other states in ensuring that those who exploit innocent people and children and cause extreme suffering are subject to strict punishment under state law,” Governor Spitzer said in a statement.
At least 29 states already have laws specifically addressing human trafficking. The State Department has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people a year are brought into the United States and then used for forced labor or sex, although experts say such statistics are inexact estimates. Efforts during the past two years to get a trafficking law in New York stalled, partly because Senate Republicans objected to provisions for services for the victims in legislation passed by Assembly Democrats. But advocates said the agreement reached between Mr. Spitzer and the Legislature would give New York one of the toughest and most comprehensive laws in the nation.
“This bill will be the model for any state law on trafficking in the country,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of Equality Now, which has pushed for a trafficking law. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the laws would make sex trafficking and labor trafficking separate felonies. A conviction of sex trafficking would carry a penalty of 3 to 25 years in prison, while a labor trafficking conviction would bring 3 to 7 years, according to the press release.
The law would clarify existing statutes to make it a felony to knowingly sell “travel-related services to facilitate prostitution,” no matter whether prostitution is legal in the state or country being visited. Coercing victims into prostitution by force would be included as a felony sex trafficking offense, as would tricking people into entering the country by promising them jobs or providing them with illegal drugs, and then forcing them into sexual servitude.
“If you don’t have a definition that includes deception, and then you find that woman three months later in a brothel, it’s very hard to prove force or coercion,” Ms. Bien-Aimé said. “But she would still be a trafficking victim.” The law would provide a broad package of services to victims of sexual trafficking, including allowing those who are in the United States illegally to receive state aid for housing, mental health, drug treatment and other services. Legislative leaders did not provide cost figures.
In a statement, Michael E. Bongiorno, the district attorney for Rockland County, said the law “will provide local law enforcement and prosecutors with the tools they need to successfully investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases.” The matter is one of the few substantive settlements lawmakers have reached in recent days.
The agreement was announced Wednesday during a public meeting of the governor and Legislative leaders in the Capitol. After being criticized for negotiating the budget largely behind closed doors, the governor has been trying to operate more openly in recent weeks. Still, he is not finding much common ground with the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, the state’s top Republican.
Trouble started almost as soon as the meeting began, when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Malcolm Smith, the Senate minority leader, invited several Democrats to come to the table and make speeches about human trafficking before the cameras. Mr. Bruno said the speech-making was a waste of time.
“Why would we need to spend our time and spin our wheels, when there are very important issues that I’d like to get to and this one’s done?” Mr. Bruno said. After another Republican lawmaker raised a similar objection, Mr. Spitzer, in a rare peace-making mode, joked, “One might conclude we’re more needy than you are.”
Lawmakers went on to discuss a number of issues, from reinstating legislation that would permit the building of new power plants to overhauling the Wicks Law, which requires multiple contractors on public construction projects. But there appears to be significant disagreement and a lack of good will.
“I’m impressed as hell with everything that I’ve heard, but we’re not getting a bill done,” Mr. Bruno said of the speeches, adding, “This is terrific, but it’s a lot of wasted time.”
Citation: Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore. "Albany Agrees on Law Against Sexual and Labor Trafficking." New York Times. 17 May 2007.
Search the entirety of the site for resources or updates.