Bay Ridge

State Senate wants word ‘prostitute’ banned from penal law

January 14, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
State Sen. Marty Golden voted in favor of a bill to strengthen the state’s laws against sex trafficking. Eagle file photo by Paula Katinas
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The New York State Penal Law will no longer contain the word “prostitute” if legislation approved by the State Senate this week becomes law.

Brooklyn state Sen. Marty Golden was among the lawmakers voting in favor of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) to change the state’s Penal Law so that the word “prostitute” no longer appears.

The proposed change, which was approved by the senate on Jan. 12, is part of a larger bill sponsored by Lanza to strengthen the state’s laws against sex trafficking.

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Under the legislation, sex trafficking will be an affirmative defense to prostitution. The term “prostitute” would be eliminated from the Penal Law because the term stigmatizes defendants who are victims of sex trafficking, Golden said. He noted that nowhere else in the state’s Penal Law are individuals identified by the crime they have allegedly committed.

The idea is to reduce the stigma that defendants face when they are victims of the massive $32 billion sex trafficking industry, Golden said.

The bill, which is called the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act, seeks to toughen the criminal penalties against suspects who buy and sell young women, men and children. The bill’s provisions include raising the penalty for sex trafficking to a class B violent felony.

The legislation would create a new crime category, “aggravated patronizing a minor,” and would have the penalties for patronizing a minor be the same as the penalties for statutory rape.

The bill would also strengthen the investigative tools used to build a case against traffickers, said Golden, a retired New York City police officer.

“Throughout New York State, innocent people are bought and sold like property each year. Human trafficking, a modern version of the slave trade, is a devastating human rights violation occurring in our own backyards,” Golden said in a statement.

The bill passed on Jan. 12 is similar to legislation that Lanza sponsored back in June. That bill, which had been approved by the senate at the time, had to be reintroduced in the current legislative session because it had not won the approval of the State Assembly and therefore died at the end of the last legislative session.

“I’m proud to have authored and passed the long-awaited Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA) to enhance protections for trafficking victims and hold those who exploit them accountable,” Lanza said in a statement issued when the bill first passed in June.

The crime of sex trafficking came on the radar in neighborhoods like Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst over the past two years as massage parlors calling themselves “day spas” started springing up at several locations.

In December, police and investigators from Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office raided nine massage parlors, arrested 15 women on prostitution-related charges, and padlocked the allegedly illicit businesses.

Thompson and Police Commissioner William Bratton said the massage parlors were fronts for prostitution.

“We conducted these raids and made these arrests because the good people of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst are sick and tired of these dens of prostitution, masquerading as legitimate businesses, popping up in our communities,” Thompson said in a statement.

At the time, concerns were expressed by community residents that the prostitution suspects were, in reality, victims of sex trafficking.


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