NYC Human Trafficking Courts, Defining Women As Victims, A Work In Progress


The Human Trafficking Intervention Court in the New York City borough of Queens, which marks its 10th anniversary next month, is a model for a statewide 11-court program that began last year, the New York Times reports. The intention is to change the legal conversation around the multibillion-dollar sex trade by redefining women in it as victims instead of criminals. Most are offered a deal: Take part in five or six counseling sessions and the charges will be dismissed and the record sealed. After 13 months, the five New York City courts are still a work in progress. “This court is not devised to solve the problems of trafficking,” said Judge Toko Serita, “but to address one of the unfortunate byproducts, which is the arrest of these defendants on prostitution charges.”

All defendants in the specialized courts are presumed to be victims at risk, an assumption made in part because of the silence surrounding sex trafficking. That silence makes it tougher to shift social mores. Not only do the police and the justice system still treat prostitution as a crime, but the women themselves, most undocumented, often don't say they have been trafficked, whether out of fear, shame or choice. New York State's progressive anti-trafficking law has no definition of a victim, but describes the coercive tactics a trafficker uses.

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