A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
While Governor Cuomo was busy espousing his outrageous belief that America “was never that great” (more on that later), what was lost in the shuffle was the purpose of the event he was attending – to sign three key laws to end the sexual exploitation of children and provide victims of human trafficking with potentially life-saving services.
Sex trafficking continues to plague communities across the state, and is especially damaging to the safety and security of children. In 2015, New York bolstered its criminal justice response to trafficking by increasing the accountability of traffickers and other exploiters while providing necessary protections for victims. However, the law did not go far enough in preventing the sexual exploitation of minors and holding traffickers more accountable for the devastating impact they have on the lives of children they abuse.
A new law (S.5988A) closes this dangerous loophole by creating the necessary criminal charge of sex trafficking of a child – eliminating the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion where a child under 18 engages in commercial sex. Unlike federal law, New York statutes prior to the signing of this bill put the onus on prosecutors to prove force, fraud, or coercion was used in order to find a person guilty of sex trafficking, even if the victim is a minor.
A second new law (S.8874) requires facilities such as hotels, inns, and motels to provide informational cards on the services available to victims of human trafficking. Information about services, such as the national trafficking hotline, will be made readily available to trafficking victims and other hotel guests and displayed in public spaces such as public restrooms, individual guest rooms, and near the entrance. This will ensure that victims have access to a discreet informational card so they are able to call the hotline for help at a later time.
Finally, a third new law (S.7836) will help expand the availability of the Human Trafficking Intervention Court (HTIC) Initiative to reach more victims. The courts were created to provide alternatives to incarceration for people arrested on prostitution charges, since many of the defendants were also victims of human trafficking. Previous law stated that four of the six HTIC courts outside of New York City lack jurisdiction to see cases that originate outside of the local criminal courts where they are physically situated. This new law expands that jurisdiction so that more victims would be eligible to receive the crucial services that are appropriate for their individual situations, including counseling, job training, education, housing, and medical treatment, among others.
While I am extremely pleased that the governor signed these measures into law, I was stunned by his disparaging remarks about our country. I have worked with the governor when we agree, and opposed him when we have differed, and we couldn’t be further apart on this point. This was not a flip comment, but rather a pre-meditated thought that was part of a choreographed speech in front of a crowd of people.
America is a relatively young country in comparison to many others around the world. The Declaration of Independence was signed less than 250 years ago, yet in our short history we have achieved true greatness. We are home to extraordinary people, life-enhancing inventions, and honorable ideals that are envied by other nations around the globe.
Americans past and present, young and old have an innate quality that cannot be clearly defined but it is inside each of us, and it is that inner excellence that makes this nation the greatest on earth. Spend some time talking with someone in your community or your family, a stranger or a close companion, an individual from a different religion, ethnic background, or even political persuasion. No matter how similar you are you won’t see eye to eye on everything and no matter how different you may seem, there will be at least some sliver of common ground. America is that great.