New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts have come under increasing criticism that they are not living up to their promise, the New York Times reports.
When New York created these 12 courts six years ago, criminal justice professionals called it an innovation. The courts send people to counseling sessions to help them leave the multibillion-dollar sex trade while dismissing charges and sealing their records. Even as courts like these have proliferated nationwide, the question is: How is it helping?
A lack of data or measurable goals has made it difficult to determine if the approach works. New York does not track what happens to the people who pass through the system, or how often they return. One counseling provider, Womankind, left the program this year after deciding it was easier to build trust outside of the court system.
The Center for Court Innovation was considered a pioneer in its creation of the intervention courts, with the goal of addressing the problems—such as trauma, abuse, and drug addiction—that forced many to engage in prostitution.
“Through our work implementing intervention courts and diversion options, we have taken these lessons to scale and offer a range of customized training and technical assistance plans, publications, and planning materials for jurisdictions interested in addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children and adults,” the site says.
A growing group of people engaged in prostitution complain that counseling sessions amount to little more than unproductive conversations with well-meaning strangers.
“The court is great for keeping you out of prison, and it’s better for understanding exploitation. But it still doesn’t take into account all the precursors, those factors that led you to prostitution in the first place,” said Melanie Thompson, 23, a sex-trafficking victim.
Seattle, Atlanta and Santa Fe, N.M., have adopted similar models, and at least seven other major cities are exploring the approach. Some point to the courts’ flaws as proof that exploitation in the sex trade cannot be solved by law enforcement. Others say the courts have opened the minds of law enforcement officials to the idea of decriminalizing prostitution, while serving as an entry point for people who might otherwise get no services at all.