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State to intervene in coerced prostitution cases

Along side Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Nassau County

Along side Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Nassau County District Attorney and the President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, Kathleen Rice expresses her feelings about the importance of the New York court system's Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative. (Sept. 25, 2013) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Prostitution suspects around the state will be given a chance to have their cases dismissed and get out of the sex business by participating in a special intervention program, New York law enforcement officials announced Wednesday.

By viewing prostitutes as human-trafficking victims who are recruited by fraud or coercion, the court system wants to promote a more compassionate and just approach that will make health, immigration and education services available, New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said Wednesday at a Manhattan news conference.

Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and social service agencies will offer intervention for prostitutes in 11 counties in the state. The voluntary program will be modeled after three special trafficking courts already operating in Nassau, Queens and Manhattan counties, according to Lippman. All five city counties will take part.

If "they want to get out of the life, we are going to give them the means by which they can," Lippman told Newsday in an interview.

"This will be a model for the nation that will hopefully improve the lives of countless victims," Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement.

Lippman said the initiative is the first statewide, court-led effort to address the problem of human trafficking, which is often manifested in forced prostitution.

In essence, trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud, coercion or financial pressure to compel a person to work. While trafficking is portrayed in news reports as involving street and brothel prostitution, it also is found in domestic servant, factory and agricultural settings among immigrant populations.

Law enforcement officials said the new state program will target women and men who are charged with prostitution, loitering for prostitution and unlicensed massage. High-priced call girls who willingly work as prostitutes of the kind who ensnared former Gov. Eliot Spitzer wouldn't normally be covered, the officials said.

The longest-running trafficking court in Queens began operation in 2004 and last year handled 879 cases, records show. Queens Criminal Court Judge Toko Serita said Wednesday that about 70 percent of all prostitution cases in the borough find their way to her special court, with about 90 percent of the defendants opting to take part in the intervention program to avoid a criminal conviction. She did not have statistics on how many later were rearrested.

Nassau District Court Judge William O'Brien, who presides over the county's special court, said virtually all of the prostitution suspects, which court records show totaled 193 in 2012, take advantage of the program. O'Brien also didn't have statistics on how many were repeat offenders.

"I would not be surprised if I see people come back two or three times," O'Brien said.

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