Advocates urge NYS assembly to lift statue on sex trafficking crimes, voluntary, repeal voluntary intoxication loophole

The Manhattan County Criminal Court building. (Photo: Zach Korb/Flickr Creative Commons)

Women’s rights advocates and rape survivors called for the NYS Assembly to pass two gender-based violence bills aimed at protecting women and children on Thursday.

During a press conference at NYC’s National Organization for Women’s (NOW) headquarters in Chelsea, women’s rights leaders bolstered bill A1940, which would repeal the five-year window to prosecute sex traffickers.

The group also pressed the importance of bill A1065, which would go after sexual predators who target people who are too inebriated to give consent to sex. 

Both bills so far have passed the NYS Senate. Next stop: the state Assembly.

Sonia Ossorio, executive director of NOW NYC, urged NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) to bring the bills into the Assembly for a vote. 

“What is difficult to understand is why his office doesn’t engage more with the advocates and survivor leaders who are pushing for important legislative changes,” Ossorio said. “We are reasonable people. We are willing to come to the table. But it’s a brick wall, so you’re constantly guessing how they feel about something.”

amNewYork Metro contacted the speaker’s office for comment but is awaiting a response. 

A1940: Lifting the statue on prosecuting sex traffickers

NOW NYC, state district attorneys and other groups have been working to get the bill passed for two years. Last month, all five NYC district attorneys, NOW and others collectively penned a letter to Heastie urging him to bring the bill to the Assembly for a vote.

Ossorio said she has not heard back from Heastie yet and stressed the importance of getting bill A1940 passed to protect children who are too often targeted and cycled into the state’s ever-growing sex trade.

The bill would repeal the five-year window to prosecute sex traffickers in the state.

Girls as young as 14 are exploited in New York’s sex trade,” Ossorio said. “These young victims and others deserve justice, and their traffickers cannot continue to get a free pass, so they can turn around and abuse more young women and girls. New York’s rampant sex trade, run by traffickers and fueled by sex buyers, is a disgrace and stain on the government.”

Jane Mendelsohn of Women’s Justice Now, explained that it takes victims years to even realize they have been brought into the seedy world of sex trafficking.

“It often takes survivors two years to realize that they’ve been trafficked,” she said. “For the first two years, they think that their pimp who’s been beating them up is their boyfriend. Then it takes another three years for them to get their mental health needs met, housing, their physical care. It is only then that they’re ready to work with law enforcement.”

Sex trafficking shows up in a lot of ways, including illicit massage and spa businesses, hotels and motels, and residences, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It also can involve pornography and escort services.

Holding sexual predators accountable

Bill A1065 would hold accountable perpetrators who target intoxicated individuals for sex. The bill would say a highly intoxicated person who says ‘yes’ to an invitation for sex is not the same as giving consent. 

Will Rivera, interim executive director of the NYS Coalition Against Sexual Assault, explained that if a victim voluntarily became inebriated — for example, by having a few too many beers —  the rape statute does not apply. 

“Under New York law, a person who becomes voluntary intoxicated can not seek the same justice for rape as someone who has their drink spiked or is slipped some other type of drug without consent,” he said. “This is called a voluntary intoxication exclusion. Let me be clear  – intoxication is not consent.”

Instead of examining an offender’s actions and intent it scrutinizes a victim’s actions, Ossorio said. 

“If someone was robbed while drunk, we wouldn’t question how they got drunk before saying it was a robbery,” Ossorio said. “Why do we do this with sexual assault?