Fighting Human Trafficking in New York State

End Human Trafficking NowBy Amy Paulin

Born and raised in New York City, Brianna was nine when she was kidnapped and raped by her school janitor and sold to a pimp. Bounced from trafficker to trafficker, she was sold for sex to men who knew her age. When she was not servicing men, she was locked in a closet in a house without electricity or running water. Brianna is a victim of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a horrible $32 billion industry. In 2013, approximately 27 million people were trafficked, 80% of whom were women and girls. The average age of entry into prostitution in the U.S. is thirteen, with more than 100,000 youth sexually exploited each year. New York is a leading entry, transit and destination point for trafficking victims, with young people sexually exploited right here in Westchester County. Nearly 60 minors have been identified in the past 18 months by Westchester DSS as sex trafficking victims. The majority are from lower Westchester.

New York has led the nation in efforts to end human trafficking, treating the sexually exploited as victims, not criminals, and providing them with critical services to rebuild their lives. But there is more work to be done. We must hold accountable those that perpetuate this evil – the traffickers and buyers who fuel the growth of this massive underground industry. That is why I continue to push to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA,A.506/S.7), a comprehensive bill I authored that will improve upon current law, strengthening our States response to human trafficking, by including the stiffening of penalties for traffickers and enabling law enforcement to conduct better surveillance of traffickers.

The TVPJA has bipartisan support in both houses and is backed by major womens groups, including NOW New York, Womens City Club of NY, Sanctuary for Families, and the 110+ organizations comprising the NYS Anti-Trafficking Coalition, including Westchester groups such as My SistersPlace, Pace Womens Justice Center, and YWCA of White Plains & Central Westchester.

Yet this common sense, bipartisan-backed legislation has been stuck in neutral for two years due to Albany politics. 

In 2013, TVPJA became a part of the Governors 10-point agenda, the Womens Equality Act (WEA). The State Assembly passed all 10 points as a package in both the 2013 and 2014 sessions, but the State Senate did not. Instead, the Senate passed 9 points as individual bills leaving out the component that would codify Roe v. Wade. The State Senate refused to pass all 10 components of WEA as a package and the State Assembly refused to pass the bills individually. Sadly, my bill has been stuck in stalemate. Yet, the State Assembly did vote on one part of the WEA as a separate bill that strengthened orders of protection laws for domestic violence victims, and that bill did eventually become law.

So at the beginning of 2015, we are starting where we left off last year. The State Senate has already passed 8 components of the WEA as individual bills, including TVPJA, and again leaving out the codification of Roe v. Wade. Now the State Assembly must decide whether it will allow the WEA to be voted on as individual bills. Meanwhile, with TVPJA still just a bill, we have not provided law enforcement with all the tools needed to fight human trafficking.

I have spent my entire political (and nonpolitical) career fighting for women’s rights and continue to be a staunch supporter of the WEA. At the same time, I recognize that we have the opportunity to strengthen womens rights in so many important areas such as sexual harassment in the workplace, pay equity, family status discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, as well as to end the victimization of women and children from human trafficking, by passing each of the bills.

I remain hopeful that politics can be put aside, so that we will soon enact into law the WEA measures, including my human trafficking bill, that will improve the lives of women in this State.

Amy Paulin serves in the New York State Assembly.

Race, Rhetoric and Rational Reform

unnamedBy John Verni

The murder of two NYC police officers by a black man to avenge the death of two black men at the hands of the police is the latest tragedy in a recent deterioration in race relations in this country. The rhetoric has been heated over the last few weeks between the politicians, the protestors, the police unions, and the press. The root causes of the tensions between the police and the minority community are many and complex and not easily solved. But where does all this rhetoric get us? Where do we go from here? Are there any rational reforms that can be made?

The sparks that lit the recent fire were the decisions of the grand juries not to indicted the police officers in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In both cases there were claims of an inherent bias that the prosecutors who presented the cases to the Grand Jury have in favor of the police officers they work with everyday. Any “no true bill” therefore becomes suspect. There have been calls for an independent prosecutor in such cases.

In New York, Attorney General Eric Scheiderman has suggested that he should be that independent prosecutor. This is a terrible idea on many levels. In general, we do not want an Attorney General who is subject to the political pressures of facing the electorate every 4 years to be deciding cases based upon political winds, not the rule of law. Such a structure would lead to mob rule with facts decided based on the volume in the public square rather than the facts presented in a courtroom. A Special Prosecutor’s Office, as we have seen in the past, is also subject to the same politics in selection and decision-making, and is ultimately second-guessed by the public.

Rational Reform

The answer is the Appellate Division. The Appellate Division in the State of New York was established under the New York State Constitution to be both the first court of appellate review and a court with certain de novo review powers meaning it can return cases to lower courts and other government entities for further fact-finding.

A rational reform would require any Grand Jury proceeding involving the death of a citizen at the hands of the police to be immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division. Normally, once a “no true bill” is voted, the case is over and not appealable. As we have seen, such a “no true bill” leads to these calls of a conflict in interest between the prosecutors and the police which in turn can remain to simmer with no adequate channel for review or redress. Under this proposal, the case would be presented by the District Attorney’s Office to a Grand Jury and immediately reviewed by the Appellate Division before a final decision either way can be delivered. If the Appellate Division deems necessary, the case can even be sent back for further fact finding or different instructions on the law.

The Appellate Division courts in New York State are courts in which a five judge panel reviews the evidence and the law and either upholds or overturns the lower court, or in this case the Grand Jury’s decision. The judges of the Appellate Division are judges serving 14 year terms and then chosen for the Appellate Division after going through a judicial screening committee and being referred to the Governor for selection. These are the most experienced judges in the state and are much more removed from the political process than the Attorney General. The Appellate Division is therefore much more likely to decide cases based upon the facts and the law rather than politics.

John Verni is host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from “middle of the road.” John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX.

Let’s Honor Murdered Cops And Avoid Divisive War Of Words

nypdBy Jim Cavanaugh

The best thing our civic leaders – both elected and self-appointed — can do to honor the two New York City police officers who were murdered yesterday is to impose a self-moratorium on agenda-driven rhetoric while the City grieves and pays these officers the respect they deserve. They should focus on the officers and their sacrifice, and take time off from their increasingly divisive war of words.

But they can’t help themselves.

Today a local Congressman is on the air saying this is what happens when people start criticizing the police. A potential presidential candidate tweeted that the murder is the result of the atmosphere created by Mayor DeBlasio and the protesters.

Simple statements from politicians who want us to believe there are simple answers. There aren’t.

The gunman seems to be a career criminal of the type that should have been removed from the streets long ago. Before he murdered the police officers he also tried to kill a former girlfriend. He may have said the murder of the officers was in retribution for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the fact is that he was a repeat felon from way back. He didn’t need reasons to harm people. He just did.

At a time when one-third of all Americans have a documented brush with the law, we should be asking why this guy was still walking around when we spend so much time and effort to lock up non-violent offenders, drug addicts, and juveniles.  If our criminal justice was better focused, then police would be safer, along with the rest of us.

Those who use yesterday’s tragic murders to condemn those who have questioned police tactics in recent months are no more helpful than the Ferguson or Staten Island protesters who claim cops are institutionally racist. They might score points with their followers, but they lead us no closer to bridging the gap that still divides the races in America.

And what about the Eric Garner case? The public seems to have it right even if the headline-grabbers don’t. Sixty percent of New Yorkers think the police mishandled the Eric Garner incident – to the extent that they believe some sort of charges were warranted. But a majority is also sick of the protesters shutting down streets, and they don’t agree with demonizing the police department as racist. They have far more respect for the difficult job these men and women accomplish than do the protesters – or more importantly their headline-seeking leadership.

Yet those who advocate for police are also fanning the flames. The head of New York City’s police union is on the air claiming the City is back on a “war footing.” He’s wrong, as anyone who lived in New York during the eighties and early nineties knows. This kind of escalating rhetoric is exactly what we don’t need.

The anti-cop protest crowd has taken a momentary turn, scrambling over themselves to praise the police that they were so roundly condemning just last week. But as soon as there is another incident that jibes with their agenda, they’ll be back. Meanwhile, those who want to protest the protesters will use this tragedy to accuse them of collective responsibility for the act of a single murderous individual.

It is time to reject all of those who insist on casting our society as us and them. Let’s embrace those who only believe in us.

Jim Cavanaugh is former Supervisor of Town of Eastchester and former Chair of Westchester County Republican Committee.