Legal Aid's Letter to the Editor in Today's New York Times Urges Police and Prosecutors to Stop the Criminalization of Victims of Trafficking
THURSDAY, MAY 10, 2012

A letter by Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief, and Kate Mogulescu, a staff attorney in the Manhattan Criminal Office, published in today's New York Times, calls for police and prosecutors to end the criminalization of victims of trafficking and urges them to do more to ensure that these unjust convictions do not occur in the first place.

Sex Trafficking Victims
To the Editor:
Re “Prosecutors Shift Focus on Charges in Sex Cases” (news article, May 3):

There is a disconnect between this announcement and the reality faced by New Yorkers who are still prosecuted for prostitution offenses in criminal court, thousands of whom the Legal Aid Society represents each year. These clients are exploited, marginalized and oppressed, yet are prosecuted and criminalized even given the growing awareness of sex trafficking.

In large part because of the city’s zero-tolerance policing strategy, these trafficking victims face repeated arrest and prosecution, an experience that serves only to reinforce their isolation.

To help trafficking victims rebuild their lives, Legal Aid began a special project last year that is the first effort by a public defender program to address the systemic criminalization of victims of trafficking and exploitation. The project also uses a new law to vacate prior convictions for prostitution for survivors of trafficking.

Last fall, we represented the first American citizen to take advantage of the new law (“Snared Into Prostitution at 13, and Now Given a Chance for a Clean Legal Slate,” About New York column, Sept. 21, 2011). To accomplish the necessary paradigm shift, police and prosecutors must do more to ensure that these unjust convictions do not occur in the first place and to stop the criminalization of victims of trafficking.

New York, May 4, 2012

The writers are, respectively, attorney in chief and staff attorney, criminal practice, at the Legal Aid Society.