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Trafficking survivors recount tales of abuse, urge action by the Legislature

Iryna tells lawmakers about her ordeal as a sex trafficking victim. Photo by Tiffany Brooks.
May 13, 2014
A bipartisan group of legislators joined survivors of sex trafficking to implore legislative leaders to put aside politics and pass a bill that would provide greater protection for young people used in the sex industry and greater penalties for those who exploit them.

The bill (A.2240-d/S.5879-b), sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Sen. Andrew Lanza, would allow courts to treat 16- and 17-year-olds arrested for prostitution as "persons in need of supervision" and provide them with special services, while also raising the penalty of pimps and johns to a class B felony, which brings with it a penalty of 25 years in prison.

At a press conference held at the Capitol on Tuesday, two survivors told their stories of falling victim to the system of sex trafficking and escaping.

Brianna, who is now 18-years-old, said when she was nine her fourth-grade janitor kidnapped her and forced her into sex trafficking. She said she was beaten, starved, neglected, raped and forced to sell her body to strangers.

"It wasn't just my pimps who caused me suffering," Brianna said. "The men who bought me were just as bad. Their money determined whether I was beaten or allowed to eat that night. So because of this, many of them had a sense of entitlement."

Brianna said she thought salvation had arrived with the police a couple years later, but found she was mistaken. Brianna was arrested as a prostitute. "As I look back on my life I realize I was put through every form of abuse you can think of, and to this day I am still traumatized," Brianna said.

Brianna then asked everyone to look at the time and to keep that moment "locked" in their heads. "Every minute that passes there is a child or a teen who is being sexually trafficked," Brianna said. "Every minute we spend waiting to pass this bill another sexually exploited child or teen is experiencing some sort of pain."

Another young woman who spoke at the Capitol Tuesday, Iryna, was as forced to sell her body by her boyfriend while she was going to college. She said her abuser was charming at first, but soon became verbally abusive and violent. She said he had a hunting knife he would poke her with and once put a gun to her head. "He never used to batter me, but the psychological abuse is being underplayed," Iryna said. "He doesn't have to beat you, he doesn't have to batter you, he can just look at you and you know you have to obey."

While Iryna was experiencing this abuse, she was living at home with her mom and attending college, and she said she never missed a class. "So everything was happening 'normal,' but in the meantime I was suffering."

Iryna said she had no identity apart from her pimp and that she believed she was his property until a stranger asked questions and told her she was being wronged. She said it took a long time to get away from her abuser.

"A lot of things are being underplayed, such as free will. 'Oh she chose this life.' No she didn't," Iryna said. "I urge all the lawmakers to pass this bill. It is so important because it is happening to everybody."

This bill was passed in different forms in both the Assembly and Senate last year. In the Assembly it was passed as part of a 10-point omnibus bill for women's equality, and passed as a stand-alone bill in the Senate. Paulin, D-Scarsdale, is looking to pass the bill as a stand-alone in the Assembly this year to ensure its becoming a law.

The bill currently stands in the Assembly Codes and the Senate Rules committees.

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