Thursday, December 3, 2009

Arrests for Trafficking Nationally Not Catching Up With Numbers of Victims

"Despite Tough Law, Few Arrests for Sex Trafficking"
Published: December 3, 2009

"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.

One typical recent case involved a 22-year-old woman from Mexico who said she was lured to New York by her boyfriend with a promise of a waitress’s job. She said she wound up working for his uncle in Queens as a roving prostitute, servicing 10 men a night across the five boroughs for $35 to $45 a trick.

Friendless, stranded on alien streets, frightened that the police would discover she was here illegally, she felt she had no choice, said the woman, who is pregnant and asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

'I felt so bad, so bad,' she said, drying tears as she spoke softly with the help of a translator. 'I didn’t know what I could do. I was alone.'

In July, the boyfriend was arrested after, she said, he beat her so brutally that she finally fled and sought out a stranger, who led her to the police. But he was charged only with a misdemeanor assault for domestic violence.

The Mexican woman said that had she been asked, she would have told the full story of how she had been intimidated into prostitution, but the police did not press her, and she did not volunteer anything because she was afraid the boyfriend might seek revenge against her family in Mexico. Her lawyers say they are now trying to get Queens prosecutors to upgrade the charges, something prosecutors say they will consider.

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.

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