(Photo: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, via Creative Commons)
by Jeanne Crump, HTC associate
On October 16th New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into legislation a bill that would protect young victims of trafficking by granting two primary protections: a sealing provision of victim’s records and a decriminalization status of teens who had previously been convicted of a crime as a direct result of being trafficked. The bill has two major oversights: a lack of protection for adults and a lack of consideration of victims and survivors of labor trafficking.
According to the press release issued by the governor’s office, under the new law (S. 6840/A. 8749-A), all records relating to 16- or 17-year olds must be sealed to protect against future employment discrimination. The records may only be unsealed if they must be used against the victim’s trafficker in court. Sealing of records allows teens increased access to job opportunities in the future, since even some low-wage, low-skill positions require background checks.
The second portion of the bill allows convicted victims to be classified as “youthful offenders” – or sexually exploited children – rather than being criminalized as adults. The press release states that in cases involving 16- and 17-year olds, instead of being immediately classified as criminals, the teens will be given access to services such as housing, crisis intervention programming and community-based programming. If the victim does not comply with the alternative conditions, the judge may convert the case back to a criminal one.
As discussed in a previous HTC blog post on Colorado House Bill 14-1273, there are two vital components this legislation is lacking. The first oversight is the lack of protection for adults. Why not extend the sealing – or even better, expungement – of records to all victims of trafficking in New York? If survivors cannot secure employment because of their criminal status, the cycle of victimization continues. Why should this only apply to teens or children?
The second oversight of the bill is that it seemingly only refers to victims of sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is as prevalent and pervasive , and those convicted as a result of labor exploitation may face the same challenges as those who were trafficked for sex. Why should they be denied alternative services, such as access to housing? We see a very similar discrepancy in Colorado’s legislation, which allows the records of sex trafficking victims to be sealed with no mention of protection for victims or survivors of labor trafficking.
What do you think makes anti-trafficking legislation most effective? What do you think of New York’s latest bill?
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