Bill: Trafficking victims wouldn’t have to testify in court
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Child sex trafficking victims would no longer have to recount their abuse in court under a legislative proposal that aims to bring New York in line with 48 other states and the federal government.
New York and Alabama are the only states whose trafficking laws typically require victims to testify in court. In New York, that’s because the law regarding the sex trafficking of a child requires authorities to prove coercion, a high standard that usually relies on victim testimony.
Victim advocates and some former prosecutors are urging lawmakers to revise the law, arguing that making victims testify can re-traumatize vulnerable, often underage people who live in fear of their abusers. They say it also can make it difficult for prosecutors to win convictions, since victims may refuse or be unable to face their abusers in court.
“Child victims are often too terrified and too traumatized to testify against their abusers,” said Dorchen Leidholdt, a leading expert on trafficking law and director of legal services at the Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women. “New York state and Alabama are requiring children to bear the burden of proving coercion.”
The measure working its way through New York’s Legislature would change the law so prosecutors, instead of having to prove a child was coerced to convict a sex trafficker, would have to prove the trafficker oversaw or profited from sex work performed by a minor. A coercion case almost always requires victims to testify, but victim testimony wouldn’t be required for a case that could be proved with financial records or other evidence.
The bill also would make it clear that children swept up in trafficking investigations should be considered victims, not criminals, for engaging in illegal sex work.
Legislation to eliminate the coercion requirement has been introduced in Alabama as well.
In New York, the bill has the support of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who last month called human trafficking “nothing short of a modern-day slave trade.” Similar legislation has passed the state Senate and has 55 sponsors in the state Assembly, indicating broad support.
Shanifa Bennett became an advocate for victims after being trafficked when she was a girl and “homeless and desperate for a roof over my head.” The 21-year-old New York City resident said on Tuesday during a visit to the state Capitol that the man who trafficked her made her have sex with multiple men every night, took her pay and beat her twice a week.
She urged lawmakers to pass the legislation to make it easier for prosecutors to make their cases and to ensure that victims aren’t forced to relive their traumas.
“Sex trafficking is rape,” she said. “Not just one time but over and over. Ten to 15 times a night.”