NYSBA State Bar News nameplate

House of Delegates

Report calls for solutions to state’s human trafficking problem

HumanTraff Photo 1 mcm
Growing concern
—Members of the Special Committee on Human Trafficking show their concern during a delegate’s comment after presentation of their report and recommendations. L to R: Hon. Barry Kamins, Hon. Carol Robles-Roman, Co-Chairs Bernice K. Leber and Sandra Rivera, and John H. Gross. [Photo by Mark Mahoney] 

By Mark Mahoney and Patricia Sears Doherty

Citing the growing scourge of human trafficking in New York—particularly its impact on children and teenagers—the State Bar has issued a report calling for legislative and legal measures to curb the problem.

The report of the Special Committee on Human Trafficking was approved by the House of Delegates during its meeting on November 2.

“It is unconscionable that nearly 150 years after our country outlawed slavery, thousands of children and adults continue to be victims of human trafficking,” said State Bar President David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody). “As attorneys, we have a collective obligation to assist the victims and end this horrendous practice.”

During the meeting, Committee Co-Chairs Bernice K. Leber of New York City (Arent Fox LLP) and Sandra Rivera of Albany (Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP), and committee members John H. Gross of Hauppauge (Ingerman Smith LLP), Hon. Barry Kamins of Brooklyn (Administrative Judge for Criminal

Matters, 2nd Judicial District) and Hon. Carol Robles-Roman of  New York (Office Of The Mayor) detailed the report and its recommendations.

Children and adults

“While statistics show that half of those trafficked are adults, there is a growing concern and recognition that more than half the victims are children who continue to be exploited after they reach the age of majority,” said Leber, a former State Bar president. 

“This report is seminal insofar as we looked to the continuum of those who are trafficked as youth and continue being trafficked into their adult years. It also addresses specific problems in the manner in which our justice system and government currently treat the victims, whether they are men, women or children. We must not only find ways to stop the trafficking of human beings, but also ensure the victims receive the care they need,” Leber said.

Nationwide, human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year business. In New York, it is estimated that there were nearly 12,000 cases of human trafficking between 2000 and 2010. Since 2007, state officials have confirmed 224 cases of human trafficking, half in New York City. A Hofstra University study found that between 2000 and 2010, about 58 percent of nearly 11,300 sex trafficking victims in New York were under age 18.

“With many small communities and close proximity to Canada and international ports, New York is particularly vulnerable to international human trafficking, but the problem is also domestic,” Rivera said. “While New York and many other states have tough laws to curb trafficking in persons, the fact that the problem persists indicates the need to take more effective measures.”

Delegate Diana Sen of New York (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs) commended the committee for its work. “This is an important report. It is essential that the New York State Bar Association serve as a leader and model” for tackling the problem. 

“This is a sad, dangerous, demeaning issue,” said delegate Karen Stanislaus of New Hartford (Oneida County Courthouse), adding that Oneida County already has begun training attorneys and social services workers on assisting victims of human trafficking. 

Report recommendations

The report states that thousands of people are taken from their families each year, threatened, abused, and forced into hard labor or prostitution.

The report contains recommendations for solutions to labor, child and sex trafficking.

It calls for establishing a civil private right of action that would allow victims to bring cases to civil court, which would help undercut the profit motive of the traffickers and provide compensation to victims. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently allow for a private right of action.

The report also calls on state lawmakers to enact an “enterprise disclosure law” requiring businesses with revenues exceeding $100 million annually to file an oath with the state Labor Department that they do not engage in human trafficking. 

To better protect young victims, the report recommends removing a state Penal Law requirement that prosecutors must prove coercion when someone 19 or older intentionally advances or profits from the prostitution of a minor.

Other recommendations include reclassifying sex trafficking as a Class B violent felony; creating an affirmative defense for trafficking victims; requiring mandated reporters to report human trafficking; and extending protections to Family Court, social services and state agencies that deal with trafficking victims. 

The Special Committee on Human Trafficking was established in January 2013 by then-President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City) and continued its work under President Schraver.

To read the report, visit: www.nysba.org/HumanTrafficking

Mahoney is NYSBA’s associate director of Media Services. Sears Doherty is editor of the State Bar News.