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Uberti: Parties share blame for New York's weak sex trafficking laws

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in Albany. (April 23, 2013) Credit: AP

New York Senate co-leader Dean Skelos didn’t waste too much time Monday trying to link his rivals in the Assembly to the horrors of human sex trafficking. In a press release as well as a statement posted on Facebook, the Rockville Centre Republican pointed to the FBI’s takedown of a nationwide child prostitution ring, announced only a few hours before, as a sign New York needs to bolster its sex trafficking laws. Good.

But he also bashed the Democrat-controlled Assembly for failing to strengthen state statutes in June, a failure for which he and other Republicans are equally culpable.

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act easily passed the Democrat-led Assembly, it foundered in the Senate because of a provision that solidified abortion rights language in state law. Instead, Skelos and his colleagues passed nine of the bill’s 10 provisions, including one to expand New York’s human trafficking laws. That piecemeal approach was, in turn, rejected by the Assembly as the legislative session drew to a close.

“Today, we have been reminded of the price of their inaction,” Skelos said in the statement after the FBI announced its bust on Monday.

Skelos should have said “our inaction,” for Republicans could have voted for the 10-point package in its entirety. Political intransigence most often runs on a two-way street, and what happened in June was no different.

His remarks came after FBI agents, over the past weekend, busted about 150 men across the country on charges of sex trafficking. The feds rescued 105 victims nationwide, many of them teenage girls, the demographic most vulnerable to trafficking.

Regarding state policy, Skelos is right: The crackdown was a stark reminder of New York’s weak sex trafficking laws. Federal statutes don’t require prosecutors to prove that pimps coerce minors into prostitution. State law does, and that burden of proof can be hard to overcome.

In June, a Manhattan judge acquitted two men of trafficking charges after a number of prostitutes testified on their behalf. It’s unclear whether there’s such a thing as a “happy hooker,” but these women sure solidified their bosses’ legal cases. The pair was eventually convicted on lesser charges of promoting prostitution and money laundering. The trafficking section of Women’s Equality Act would close such a loophole for minors, bringing state law more in line with its stricter federal counterpart. It would also increase penalties for the crime and provide prostitutes an affirmative defense if they’re victims of sex trafficking. All are much-needed improvements.

“No more politics, no more stalling,” Skelos said Monday, chiding state Democrats.

He’s right on that charge. But he’s also not entirely innocent.