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Judge dismisses human trafficking victim’s non-prostitution charges

Queens Criminal Court Judge Toko Serita

Was introduced to 'the life' in Brownsville

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

For the first time, a judge ruled that a non-prostitution charge against a victim of human trafficking could be dismissed without prior approval from the District Attorney’s Office.

In 2000 and 2003, LG was convicted and sentenced on charges of prostitution and possession of a weapon. LG asserted that the criminal acts were a result of her years of forced prostitution and asked that the charges be vacated.

LG, a Brooklyn native, became a ward of the state following her grandmother’s death in 1994. At the age of 12, while at a foster home in Brownsville, LG was approached by an older man, identified in court papers as “A,” and escorted to his home, where other underage girls were kept. He introduced LG to a world of prostitution.

By the time LG was 14, she had used by four pimps and had been forced to travel to Atlantic City, Washington, D.C., and Florida to perform sexual acts. She was arrested repeatedly on prostitution charges and in 2003, at the age of 17, she was arrested for carrying a knife.

LG contended that because “I had already been raped by clients and was terrified of it happening again. Every time I went out I was scared of being raped or killed," the knife was for protection.  At the age of 18, LG took a courageous step and returned to a foster placement agency that placed her with a family in Staten Island to, according to court papers,  “…keep her away from Brooklyn, where she did not feel safe…”

In 2010, New York became the first state in the country to allow victims of human trafficking to vacate prior convictions, which resulted from their experience as sex slaves.  In order to take advantage of this law, the defendant has to show that he or she was a trafficking victim at the time of the challenged arrest and that the defendant’s participation in the crime that lead to his/her arrest was a result of being trafficked.

Queens Criminal Court Judge Toko Serita noted in his ruling that while New York does not have a definition for “sex trafficking victim,” the crime of sex traffic is spelled out in the New York Penal Law. A person is guilty of sex trafficking if he/she "intentionally advances or profits from prostitution" by using methods of “force or coercion to instill a fear in the trafficked victim to compel her to engage in or continue to engage in prostitution.”

While New York state law does not posses a true definition of a sex trafficking victim, Serita reasoned that an individual who is forced to work as a prostitute for a pimp —a pimp who would be guilty of sex trafficking under New York Penal Law — is a victim of a sex trafficker, and thus a sex trafficking victim.

Serita held that “LG has demonstrated that she was clearly a victim of sex trafficking under the relevant state sex trafficking statute because of her traffickers' use of force and fear to compel her participation in prostitution.”

Having been deemed a sex trafficking victim, Serita ordered that LG’s prostitution charge be vacated, which the prosecution did not contest.

The prosecution did, however, assert that the weapons possession charge was not a result of LG’s status as a sex trafficking victim and therefore not eligible for vacatur under New York law, which only allows for prostitution offenses to qualify.

Serita asserted that while the possession of a knife is not a prostitution offense, it is a prostitution-related offense. LG possessed a pocketknife for protection “on the streets where she was forced to work under dangerous conditions because she had been raped and kidnapped in the past,” Serita wrote. “Her conviction for criminal weapons possession was clearly the result of her having been trafficked,” he continued, and therefore the charge of weapons possession could be considered a prostitution-related offense and eligible for vacatur.

Serita believed his ruling stood true to the intention of the state legislature, to “give victims of human trafficking a desperately needed second chance they deserve."

LG is currently a college student and is expected to graduate in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration and social work.

August 22, 2013 - 9:00am


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