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DA Rice joins sex-trafficking bill rally

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice, speaks

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice, speaks during a news conference in support for state legislation titled the Trafficking Victims Justice and Protection Act. (June 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

A sex trafficking bill that would have toughened penalties for pimps and prostitution clients will not become law this year, but that did not discourage advocates and prosecutors from Manhattan and Nassau from gathering Tuesday to push their agenda.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and Kathleen Rice, district attorneys from Manhattan and Nassau, joined others on the steps of the State Supreme Court in lower Manhattan to bring attention to an issue that some refer to as modern-day slavery.

The legislation, which would have also provided greater protection for victims, often women and girls, will not pass this year because state lawmakers are divided over the proposal's key elements, said its sponsor, Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale).

Vance said he was disappointed by the delay, but not deterred, saying, "History teaches us that this sometimes can take several years or many sessions to get the job done."

In Albany, Paulin said she plans to reintroduce the bill in the next session. Talks are stalled over how much to increase the penalties and whether teens arrested for prostitution should be prosecuted as children in Family Court, she said.

The bill raises penalties for convicted pimps to a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 25 years. Those are now a minimum of 1 to 3 years, with a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years.

Those who buy sex services would also face tougher penalties -- the younger the worker, the tougher the penalty.

The New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, an advocacy group that supports the bill said the average age of entry into prostitution is 13 in the United States. It said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates more than 100,000 U.S. children and youth are sex trafficking victims.

Rice said that, since she took over in 2006, her office has prosecuted 18 johns for buying sex services and 113 others for promoting prostitution.

Sex workers, she said, should be treated as victims, not criminals. "We need to be leaders on this issue; to begin to educate the public; get our laws up to speed where they need them to be to give DA's like me the tools we need to dismantle these rings and protect the victims," she said.

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