Sex Trafficking in New York
last updated July 2012
Sex trafficking is a particularly large problem in New York—not only is NYC one of the most popular cities used by traffickers to bring women into the country, but it is often the final destination for trafficking victims. This crime is prohibited under federal and state law.
Federal Overview
The United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to prohibit trafficking, punish traffickers, and protect victims. The TVPA defines a trafficking victim as “a person induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion.” However, any person under age 18 who performs a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether the act involved force, fraud, or coercion.
Federal statutes governing sex trafficking include 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2421, 2422, and 2423. Section 1591 prohibits traffickers from affecting interstate commerce by recruiting or enticing victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Section 2421 prohibits traffickers from transporting persons over state or international lines to engage in commercial sex acts. Section 2422 prohibits traffickers from using the mail or other means to entice or coerce victims to travel for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts. Lastly, Section 2423 prohibits traffickers from transporting minors across state or federal borders for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts and prohibits persons from traveling to engage in illicit sex acts. A person who violates these laws is subject to criminal penalties ranging from ten years to life in prison.
State Overview
In 2006, three large sex trafficking rings were shut down in New York and the high publicity prompted legislative intervention. The following year, New York passed its first Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation, which took effect on November 1, 2007.
New York Penal Law § 230.34 defines the offense of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking occurs when one intentionally advances or profits from prostitution by, among other things, 1) providing controlled substances to impair the judgment of someone to promote prostitution, 2) making false or misleading statements or omissions to promote initial or ongoing prostitution, 3) withholding, destroying or confiscating immigration or other government identification, 4) requiring prostitution, or 5) using force or threat of force to create fear or harm with the purpose of promoting initial or ongoing prostitution. According to N.Y. Penal Law § 70.00(2)(b), sex trafficking is a class B felony that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment. Additional fines may be imposed under N.Y. Penal Law § 80.00(1) totaling $5,000 or double the amount of the defendant’s gain from the commission of the crime.
Penal Law § 230.36 provides a safety net for the victims of sex trafficking. Specifically, this law ensures that victims are not prosecuted as accomplices to the primary sex trafficking offense. Nevertheless, victims of sex trafficking have been often charged with prostitution offenses. To address this problem, in June 2010 the New York Legislature passed a bill to permit victims of sex trafficking to have any related prostitution convictions vacated.
Despite strict laws against sex trafficking, prosecutions are rare. In the first two years after the Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation came into effect, there were 18 arrests and one conviction for trafficking. This mirrors national trends:  between 2000 and 20007, there were only 110 federal prosecutions for sex trafficking occurred despite estimates that over 15,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year.
To report suspected incidents of sex trafficking, contact the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Complaint Line at 1-888-428-7581.