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Sen. Gillibrand and AG James Boost Bill to Protect Sex Trafficking Victims

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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Attorney General Letitia James announce two bills to protect sex trafficking victims on Feb. 13. (Photo by Dean Moses)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York State Attorney General Letitia James promoted a pair of bipartisan bills in Congress to help victims of human trafficking at a Sunday, Feb. 13, press conference.

“Human trafficking is a horrific form of slavery that affects thousands of people across this country and hundreds in New York,” Gillibrand said. “Congress has a responsibility to end these injustices and clear non-violent criminal convictions of trafficking survivors so they can rebuild their lives without a criminal record. These bipartisan bills would help accomplish this goal and would also improve data collection on human trafficking to better identify patterns and provide a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach to recovery.”

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Senator Gillibrand. Photo by Dean Moses

The two pieces of legislation include the so-called Trafficking Survivors Relief Act which would allow for certain non-violent criminal convictions and arrests to be removed from someone’s record if they committed the crimes as a result of being trafficked.

The second legislation is the Put Trafficking Victims First Act which would require the U.S. Attorney General to study human trafficking issues and promote better support for victims.

New York AG James said he worries that even Super Bowl Sunday was just another occasion where criminals traffic humans for parties.

The Empire State has ranked among the highest in the country for human trafficking, and some 40 million people are enslaved nationwide, said the state’s top prosecutor, adding that many of these victims feel trapped, silenced by their capturers and afraid to come forward in case they are arrested.

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Attorney General Letitia James. Photo by Dean Moses

“The human trafficking crisis is largely unseen, but deeply felt in communities across New York,” said James. “The bills put forward by Senator Gillibrand will go a long way in putting much-needed attention and resources toward anti-trafficking efforts and supporting trafficking victims and survivors.”

Joining the elected officials were both survivors of sex trafficking and anti-trafficking activists, who called human trafficking a form of slavery where individuals are forced to provide commercial sex—including the exploitation of minors for sex.

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Polina Ostrenkova, a Survivor Leader at Covenant House New York. Photo by Dean Moses

“The convictions on my record derailed my chances of becoming a lawful US resident and my dreams of becoming either a lawyer or social worker who could advocate for other survivors,” said Polina Ostrenkova, who experienced human trafficking and homelessness and now works at the shelter Covenant House New York. “I am so grateful to Senator Gillibrand for working to make sure that a trafficking victim with federal convictions has the same chance to pursue their dreams as I now do. The more innocent people are free from criminal charges, the better things they can bring to the world.”

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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