What I thought would be a simple bill signing ceremony for legislation intended to protect children from sex trafficking turned out to be something more. On August 15th in lower Manhattan, rock music blared in the community center gymnasium as hundreds of people found their seats amid TV cameras stationed in front of a make-shift stage with a large banner embracing the fight for women and girls. As the New York Times reported, “[t]he event was ostensibly a bill-signing ceremony,” but it had all the trappings of a political rally.
The legislation that Governor Cuomo signed is significant. Prior to this law, a New York State prosecutor had to prove force, fraud or coercion to establish sex trafficking – regardless of whether the victim was a child. It made no sense that even though a child cannot legally engage in sexual activity, the State still had to meet that evidentiary burden. The legislation conforms New York law to that of 46 other states and federal law which recognize that all children involved in prostitution are victims of trafficking. According to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.: “By eliminating the need to prove force, fraud, or coercion for children under 18-years-old, we will be able to bring stronger cases, and spare young survivors from the trauma of having to testify mere feet from their traffickers.”