Excerpt from Sienna Baskin and Melissa Broudo's September 2, 2010 Huffington Post column on New York State's new law, sponsored by Senator Duane and Assembly Member Gottfried and co-authored by the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, that allows sex trafficking victims to clear their records of prostitution-related crimes.
September 2, 2010
A Victory for Survivors of Trafficking in New York State
by Sienna Baskin and Melissa Broudo
At 14, Kate*, ran from her abusive home in a New York suburb. With nowhere to live, it was only a matter of time before Kate found herself forced to engage in survival sex: sleeping with men for a place to stay. Soon after, she was recruited and forced to work for a pimp who confiscated her cell phone and cut her off from the outside world. For two years this violent older man forced Kate to do prostitution in New York and nearby states. She suffered multiple rapes, including once at gunpoint. Shy of her 17th birthday, Kate sought help from a program for sexually exploited minors, and bravely testified against her pimp - sending him to prison for 12 years.
Originally from Central America, Maria* moved to New York in the nineties to be with her husband - a man who later trafficked her into commercial sex. In 12 years of marriage he physically, sexually, and psychologically abused her. He also forced her to do prostitution, which she found humiliating and debasing, especially as a devout Christian. She always had to turn over her earnings to him. After her husband disappeared in 2005, Maria finally spoke out about the abuses she had endured over the years and began working with a social worker. With help from a lawyer, she was granted a T-visa (a special Visa given to survivors of human trafficking) so she could stay safely in the U.S.
But a deeper look at the seemingly happy endings to these tragic stories wears off some of that sheen. In a span of two years the police arrested Kate for prostitution six times. Maria was arrested over eight times. Both women were afraid, confused, and unable to tell law enforcement what was really happening. Now in her 20's, Kate has put her past behind her to pursue her education and dreams of a career in finance. But her criminal record has threatened to stand in her way. To get a job at a bank, she was required to submit to a background check and disclose her prostitution record. Maria found a job as a home health attendant, but five years later, her employer ran her fingerprints, discovered her criminal record, and fired her.
Saturday, August 13, 2010, marked a victory for survivors like Maria and Kate, when New York's Governor David Paterson signed a bill allowing survivors of commercial sex trafficking to clear their records of prostitution-related crimes by vacating their convictions. The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Duane and co-authored by the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center, is the first law in the nation providing this remedy to survivors of trafficking.
To read the full article, click here.
* Clients consented to have their stories used, but not their real names.