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New York gets new courts for prostitution-related sex offenses

With an increasing focus nationally on the problem of human trafficking and sex trafficking of under-age children who've been victimized, the state is creating an ambitious and ground-breaking program. It's a statewide system of specialized criminal courts in New York to handle prostitution-related sex offenses. The idea is to steer young victims away from a life of repetitive exploitation and arrest and into treatment services that offer a pathway to social integration.

The initiative may be the first of its kind in the nation. The Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will exist statewide and will handle all prostitution-related offenses that go beyond arraignment. They'll bring together specially trained prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and social workers, combined with numerous targeted services.

The chief judge of the New York courts announced the program and condemned the exploitation of abused children, the poor, runaways and immigrants. They're victimized into a framework of human slavery, which he called intolerable in a civilized society. In this new system, when the judge, prosecutor and defense counsel agree, the court will refer the person to appropriate services.

These can include drug treatment, shelter, immigration assistance and health care. At the same time, they'll be offered educational services and job training, to try and prevent re-entrance to crime. It's a refreshing, dynamic attempt to use the court system as a relevant instrument of social reform.

The initiative recognizes that most women enter prostitution between the ages of 12 and 14. That fact clarifies that they can't be consenting violators. Additionally, the New York legislature passed three supportive statutes in recent years. They are the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, which criminalizes sex and labor trafficking; the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which treats any minor arrested for prostitution as "a sexually exploited child"; and a law that allows trafficking victims to have their prostitution convictions vacated.

Within hours of the judge's New York speech, the influential Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences released a report calling for laws and policies that treat these persons as victims. The report also points out that statutory rape laws say that children under a certain age cannot legally consent to sex offenses. Nevertheless, most states have treated them as criminal offenders instead of victims.

Source: The New York Times, With Special Courts, State Aims to Steer Women Away From Sex Trade, William K. Rashbaum, Sept. 25, 2013

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