Monday, October 6, 2008

Ending the Double Exploitation of Youth in Manhattan and NYS

Starting in 2010, New York State will cease the additional victimization of young victims of sexual exploitation.

Other People's Children

In 2007, the New York State Legislature and the New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer, succeeded in enacting legislation providing support and protection to individuals who are smuggled into the United States from other countries for the sex trade.

Our Children

Now, under our new Governor (and Manhattanite), David Paterson, New York State is taking the lead in the providing similar support and protection for New York State's youth. In late September, Governor Paterson signed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act into law. The new law will end the practice of treating under-age sex slaves as criminals, and start the practice of treating them like the victims they are.

The new legislation (which was advocated by many respected New York organizations including the Correctional Association of New York will stop the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of children involved in prostitution, and it will initiate the provision of a number of required state-provided services to these exploited youth: counseling, crisis intervention, short-term safe houses, and long-term housing. Without these services and this support, most of these young victims would be likely to be victimized again after their first contact with the authorities. Now, they will be placed on a path that leads away from exploitation and toward a life as a productive member of our society.

The safe houses and the long term housing are particularly important aspects of this legislation. Many victimized youth originally left their homes because of parental abuse. Sending these victims back to their homes is often not a mechanism for putting them on the right track. These housing options will create a cushion for these youth away from abusive parents and away from those who exploited them after they left home.

In New York City, 75% of sexually exploited youth have been a part of the foster care system, and in New York State, 85% of such youth are from families that have the child welfare system intervening in their lives. Therefore, the exploited youth who had been criminalized in the past were not only victims of the sex industry, they had been "at-risk" prior to being captured by the sex industry.

The new law would change the destination of these exploited children from jailhouses to centers for social services. These children will now see adults not only as abusers and destroyers (as they did when their victimization was exacerbated by their incarceration) but also as liberators, teachers, mentors, and protectors.

The Opposition

This same legislation failed in 2007 because of opposition from prosecutors across New York State. Those prosecutors argued that they needed the threat of jail time in order to force the victimized youth to testify against their abusers. Rarely did abused youth make effective witnesses, and their testimony was often undermined by the fact that they were offering their testimony in exchange for a lesser sentence in a sex crime. Supporting and protecting these youth make them more effective and witnesses while also making their lives more likely to be free of future exploitation.

The Praise

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we are pleased that Governor Paterson and the New York State Legislature were able to provide this protection to the children of our state, and we give the legislature credit for succeeding where they and a different Governor failed not long ago.,0,6761686.story

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