Thursday is a very big day for me. I will be downtown in New York City to testify before the City Council Committee on Youth Services Oversight. The topic – How do the human trafficking intervention courts address the needs of New York City’s runaways and homeless youth population?
I will also be at a press conference for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence at City Hall.
Let’s start with the human trafficking issue. With the enactment of the State’s human trafficking law in 2007, New York put on its books one of the most comprehensive human trafficking laws in the country. The following year, the Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act was signed into law, a groundbreaking law — and the first state law — to establish that commercially sexually exploited youth are crime victims, not perpetrators. The Safe Harbour Act recognized that these youth should be provided with services rather than be prosecuted for committing criminal acts.
Although current law provides a mechanism for providing specialized services to sexually exploited youth who go through the Family Court system, we do not have a mechanism to provide the same services to 16 & 17 year old trafficking victims. Sexually exploited 16 & 17 year olds arrested on prostitution charges are tried as adults in criminal courts. These courts lack the ability to address the needs of these youth and to direct them to the same services we provide to sexually exploited youth younger than 16.
Under the leadership of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, we can now have these 16- and 17-year-olds go to specialized criminal courts – Human Trafficking Intervention Courts – where specially trained judges will preside over their cases and have the ability to refer the youth, with the agreement of the defense and the prosecution, to an array of services.
As Chief Judge Lippman stated, “human trafficking is a crime that inflicts terrible harm on the most vulnerable members of society,” including the poor, children and runaways. Providers of services have long been concerned about the relationship between trafficking and the homeless. Traffickers look to prey upon the most vulnerable, making homeless and runaway youth among their top targets.
According to a recent report released by Covenant House, almost half (48%) of the aforementioned runaways responded that they were active sexually because they did not have a place to stay. They explained that traffickers loiter in areas where homeless youth are known to gather and then tell them that the shelters are full and offer them a place to stay in lieu of sleeping on the streets.
If we are to prevent the continued exploitation and victimization of runaway and homeless youth who we gain contact with as a result of their arrest by law enforcement, we must get them essential services. Referring these youth to Human Trafficking Intervention Courts is an invaluable tool to enable us to do just that.
It is important, however, that we also provide a statutory framework for all criminal courts to provide sexually exploited 16- and 17-year-olds with the same services we make available to sexually exploited youth younger than 16. Legislation I authored (A.8071A/S.5839A), which passed both houses last session, will allow criminal courts to convert to a PINS (Person In Need Of Supervision) proceeding those cases involving sexually exploited 16- and 17-year-olds arrested on prostitution charges.
In this way, we will be able to provide these youth with all the specialized services available to sexually exploited children under age 16 under the Family Court Act. The bill will be sent to the Governor for his signature. I want to mention that I have been working with various stakeholders to make sure that the bill effectively accomplishes our objective to treat these youth as victims and make sure they are not shackled with a criminal record, and provide them with the specialized services The Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, together with the statutory framework we have developed through my legislation, will enable us to get children who have been sexually exploited the assistance they need to end their victimization and begin rebuilding their lives.
I look forward to continuing our collective efforts to ensure that the promise of our Safe Harbour law to provide critical services to exploited youth is fulfilled. Although we have accomplished a great deal, there is a lot more to do. Next session, I will work to pass the comprehensive Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act I authored that builds on our collective efforts to end human trafficking by increasing accountability for the real criminals, the buyers and traffickers, who continue to fuel the growth of this massive industry that preys on our most vulnerable members of society.
The second issue I will be addressing is guns and how to keep them away from children. There is no doubt that we need a tougher law that is aimed specifically at keeping guns out of the hands of children. The bill I have introduced will do just that.
The Safe Weapon Storage Act (A. 8293) provides for criminal penalties for any person who leaves a weapon out of his or her immediate possession or control without securely locking it up or using a locking device on it.
You may be asking why we need another law. Earlier this year, we led the nation by enacting groundbreaking gun legislation to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and potentially dangerous mental health patients, and ban high capacity magazines and assault weapons. We also required the safe storage of firearms but only if the owner lives with someone who has been convicted of a crime, been involuntarily committed, is subject to an order of protection or been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
We need to continue our efforts to combat gun violence and prevent the future loss of innocent lives. My bill will expand our current law to protect our most innocent people in our society – our children. This legislation will require the safe storage of guns in all households, where children are or may be present. If the gun owner does not have the gun in his or her immediate possession or control, he has to either put it in a safe or put a locking device on it to prevent access to it by children and others who should not have access to a gun.
If a gun owner doesn’t comply with this common-sense requirement, he or she will be subject to criminal penalties:
• A person who leaves a weapon out of his or her immediate possession without locking it in a safe or using a locking device on it will be guilty of a violation; on a second offense, the gun owner will be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
• If a person leaves a weapon out of his or her immediate possession without locking it in a safe or using a locking device on it and the weapon is removed from the premises by any other person, he or she will be guilty of a class Amisdemeanor.
• If a person leaves a weapon out of his or her immediate possession without locking it in a safe or using a locking device on it and the weapon fires causing physical injury or death of someone else, he or she will be guilty of a class E felony.
In addition, the bill provides for the revocation of the gun owner’s license and the surrender of all firearms in certain instances, such as when he or she leaves a weapon out of his or her immediate possession without locking it in a safe or using a locking device on it and the weapon fires causing physical injury or death of someone else.
Lastly, we give gun owners notice that they need to secure their guns when the guns aren’t in their possession or control. They will receive notice of this requirement and the consequences if they don’t comply when they are sold a gun or when their license is issued or renewed.
Providing notice and holding people accountable when they don’t comply is not new. We do that with our laws requiring us to wear seat belts, not to text when we drive, not to smoke in public places and not to serve alcohol to minors.
It’s pretty straightforward: if your gun is not on or near you, lock it up or put a lock on it. If you don’t, you’ll be held accountable with criminal penalties and in some cases your license may be revoked and your weapons taken. Adding this common sense, reasonable requirement to our laws will go a long way to protecting our children and help us prevent unintentional shootings, homicides and accidents.
Unlocked guns are a tragedy waiting to happen. With your help, we will pass this legislation and get it signed into law. Thank you for your advocacy and for all of the work you do to keep our families safe.