Contact: John Caher, Press Office
(518) 457-8415 or (518) 225-5240 (cell)
For immediate release: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2007

Human Trafficking Law Takes Effect Today

New York State today moves to the forefront in the fight against human trafficking as a comprehensive law against what Governor Eliot Spitzer has described as “modern-day slavery” takes effect.

As of today, sex trafficking and labor trafficking are felonies crimes, with the perpetrators facing a stiff prison sentence and with victims now having access to social service assistance.

Under the legislation unanimously approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Spitzer in June, the new law creates a Class B felony for those who engage in sex trafficking and a Class D felony for those who engage in labor trafficking. It also removes legal ambiguities to ensure that prosecutors can bring charges against purveyors of so-called “prostitution tourism,” establishes a broad range of services for victims and creates an Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking.

The task force, co-chaired by Denise E. O’Donnell, commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services and assistant secretary for criminal justice, and David A. Hansell, Commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, brings together 10 state agencies committed to enforcing the new law through a unified and coordinated effort.

“Police and prosecutors now have the ability to effectively investigate and prosecute those who exploit girls and women in brothels, massage parlors and on websites with sexual content,” Governor Spitzer said. “We will be able to prosecute and convict those who exploit the labor of others as domestic help, restaurant workers, farm laborers and seamstresses in sweatshops.”

Governor Spitzer added: “New York is widely regarded as both a transit and destination location for victims of human trafficking. This new law enables us to attack the crimes of sex and labor trafficking as they actually exist and provides punishments that fit their crimes. With aggressive application of this new law and increased public awareness, we can abolish modern-day slavery in New York.”

Commissioner O’Donnell said human trafficking is frequently a difficult crime to detect, largely because victims are hidden from public view and the means used by traffickers are many times subtle.

“Trafficking has appeared in contemporary sweat shops where garments are made, in massage parlors, on agricultural sites that attract migrant workers, in restaurants where newly arrived immigrants may work and in many other settings,” Commissioner O’Donnell said. “Victims typically work long hours for little, if any, pay. They may be exceptionally guarded and fearful of outsiders – especially the very law enforcement officials who would free them from their oppression.”

Commissioner Hansell said: “It’s important we reassure victims they are safe and get them the protection and support they need to rebuild their lives. Through this program we will be better able to identify victims of this terrible crime and provide access to these vital services.”

In addition to DCJS and OTDA, the interagency task force includes the Department of Health, the Office of Mental Health, the Department of Labor, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Crime Victims Board, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the State Police.