“It’s very reminiscent where we were 30 years ago on the domestic violence stuff …. People just don’t get it yet.”So spoke a District Attorney, commenting on the lack of sex trafficking prosecutions in NY.

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From this NYT article:

Despite a highly trumpeted New York State law in 2007 that enacted tough penalties for sex or labor trafficking, very few people have been prosecuted since it went into effect, according to state statistics.

In New York State, there have been 18 arrests and one conviction for trafficking since the law was signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and took effect in November 2007, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. There is one case pending in Manhattan, one in Queens and two in the Bronx.

The situation is not all that different in New Jersey or in roughly 30 states that have laws against human trafficking : defined as using fraud or force to exploit a person for sex or labor. A federal law passed in 2000 with lifetime prison penalties has resulted in 196 cases with convictions against 419 people, according to statistics from the United States Department of Justice.

The scale of those numbers contrasts starkly with the 14,500 to 17,500 people the State Department estimates are brought into the United States each year for forced labor or sex. …

The police, experts say, should be asking an immigrant prostitute whether she was forced to work the streets, whether her passport was taken away, whether she was held somewhere against her will. Training sessions to focus on such questions have been held, including one Nov. 12 in Mount Kisco for 100 law enforcement officers and social service providers.

“If you’re looking at a frightened immigrant woman in a brothel, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in political science to know what you’re dealing with,”said Dorchen Leidholdt, legal director for Sanctuary for Families, a Manhattan battered-women’s agency that is helping the Mexican woman. She runs across many police officers who do not know that a trafficking law exists, she said.

But the police often are not helped by victims, who are”taught, trained and manipulated by their exploiters not to cooperate with nor trust law enforcement,”Richard A. Brown, the district attorney of Queens, said in an e-mail message. In the case of the Mexican woman, his office said that the only information she provided was that her boyfriend had punched her; she never mentioned his forcing her into prostitution.

If the right questions are asked, trafficking charges do result. In Westchester County, a 21-year-old Hungarian immigrant told prosecutors she was deceived by her employer, Joseph Yannai, 65, author of a book profiling the world’s top chefs, into thinking she would be coming to suburban Pound Ridge to work as his personal assistant. But according to a criminal complaint, the job required her to perform sexual favors.

The woman, whose name has not been released, escaped and her testimony resulted in charges against Mr. Yannai for sexual abuse and two counts of labor trafficking : one involving the Hungarian and another a Brazilian woman at the Yannai home. Under the new law, each labor trafficking count carries a sentence of three to seven years in prison.

In their questioning, prosecutors learned, according to the complaint, that Mr. Yannai had deceived the Hungarian woman about the nature of the job, had limited her phone calls and offered her no spending money : acts that undergirded the trafficking charge. Mr. Yannai, who is awaiting trial, said the women”were free to come and go as they wished,”according to his lawyer, John D. Pappalardo. …

As I’ve blogged about previously, some law enforcement officials do not think that trafficked women are worth expending time and resources on, while some feminists are determined to believe that most poor women like doing sex work and do it by choice. Thank goodness for folks like Anne Milgram, the New Jersey attorney general, and Janet DiFiore, the Westchester district attorney (who uttered the quote that titles this post) who are pushing others in law enforcement to recognize that prostituted women are victims, not criminals. This approach should be applied to all women caught up in the sex industry, not just immigrant women. I suspect that anyone who was selling sex completely voluntarily would rather be treated as a victim than a criminal if those are the only two available choices, and right now they are. Maybe some day there will be a social order in which non-exploitive sex work is possible, but at present I think it’s more important to identify and assist as many victims as possible, even if that means inconveniencing people who assert they are engaging in prostitution voluntarily. I hope that enforcement of this law will improve soon.

–Ann Bartow

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2 Responses to “It’s very reminiscent where we were 30 years ago on the domestic violence stuff …. People just don’t get it yet.”So spoke a District Attorney, commenting on the lack of sex trafficking prosecutions in NY.

  1. sandy says:

    I apologize for being off-topic, but I wanted to tell you thank you so so much for posts about Go Fug Yourself. It was many years ago and I remember reading those entries you made and thinking, “she’s wrong, she needs a sense of humor.” Now I see it and it’s so painful I’ve stopped reading them completely. A friend sent me an email complaining about their misogyny today and I googled “go fug yourself hates women” and remembered this whole controversy.

    It may take years but some of us do come around and wake up. So, again, thank you.

  2. Ann Bartow says:

    Hey, thanks. That makes my day.

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