Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie today announced the Assembly has passed a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at thwarting human trafficking across the state and supporting victims of domestic violence and other crimes.
"The Assembly Majority recognizes that crime touches the lives of not just its victims, but also their families and communities," said Speaker Heastie. "That is why we are committed to ensuring that all those affected have the protections, resources, services and support they need to rebuild their lives."
Today's legislative package includes a measure that would establish the right of a tenant to call for police or other emergency assistance without fear of losing their housing as a result of landlord actions or local nuisance laws (A.2919, Lavine). Local nuisance laws are often put in place to address drug, weapon, disorderly conduct, and property crimes and ensure the quiet enjoyment of community members. However, these laws can be triggered if police or emergency services provide aid or are called to a property multiple times. This legislation seeks to prevent such ordinances from causing victims, often women and their children, from being evicted from their homes for seeking emergency help.
Human Trafficking Awareness and Victims Support
Other measures passed today would help protect and support victims of human trafficking and educate businesses and individuals regarding ways to recognize the signs of human trafficking. Too often, victims of sexual exploitation are treated as criminals and charged with crimes like loitering or prostitution. Today's legislation would ensure that victims of sex trafficking would not be required to provide samples to be included in the state criminal DNA identification database (A.1030, Paulin). Another measure would address the need for sex trafficking victims to secure placement in short-term and long-term housing by ensuring prompt eligibility (A.3223-A, Lentol). These residences offer much needed services, such as counseling, that often help survivors transition back into the community.
Human trafficking is a hidden crime, and the first step to combating it is to identify victims so they can be rescued and help bring their perpetrators to justice. It is a well-known fact that trafficking networks often rely on legitimate businesses, such as hotels, to sustain their illegal operations.
In an effort to train individuals to better recognize sex trafficking, today's package includes a measure that would establish uniform human trafficking recognition training programs and require all employees at commercial casino gaming facilities to undergo such training (A.7034, Titone). Another piece of legislation would mandate every lodging facility to ensure that any employee that is likely to interact with guests undergoes a human trafficking recognition program (A.6834-B, Paulin).
Crime Victims Support
The Office of Victim Services (OVS) provides compensation to innocent victims of crime, funds direct services to crime victims through a network of community-based programs and advocates for the rights of all innocent victims of crime. The Assembly Majority is committed to ensuring victims of crime have access to the support and resources that OVS offers.
Legislation passed today would give courts the discretion to direct that part or all of criminal fines or civil penalties under certain antitrust laws be paid to OVS (A.3555, Englebright).
The package also includes measures that seek to ensure victims of crimes are not unfairly excluded from the services provided by OVS. Under Assembly Bill 3920 (Glick), domestic partners of homicide victims would be eligible for compensation from OVS for actual out-of-pocket losses and counselling expenses. Other legislation would authorize OVS to accept certain other official documents, in addition to police reports, for proof of eligibility for services as victims of family offenses (A.3936, Pretlow).
Redefine Criminal Sexual Acts
The Assembly also passed a measure to more broadly define the state's rape statutes. Under current law, forced oral and anal sex are not considered rape. Today's legislation would remove the penetration requirement from the rape statutes and redefine rape as vaginal sexual contact, oral sexual contact or anal sexual contact (A.4249-A, Simotas).
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol said, "Human trafficking and sex trafficking are reprehensible crimes that cause great damage to the individuals who survive these ordeals. It is important that we provide a support system that does not subject them to further obstacles in reclaiming their lives. These measures will ensure that our laws are responsive to the needs victims."
Assemblymember Deborah Glick said, "Homicide is a heinous crime that touches the lives of all of a victim's loved ones, including domestic partners. This legislation acknowledges that marital status does not establish the significance of a relationship, nor does it affect the devastating impacts homicide has on a victim's domestic partner emotionally and financially."
Assemblymember Steve Englebright said, "My Assembly colleagues and I believe it is simply fair that the fines paid by both civil and criminal offenders of the state's anti-trust laws be used by the Office of Victim Services. The bill I sponsor will give the courts the power to determine whether such fines will be directed to the Office of Victim Services, providing much needed new revenue to help crime victims recover from the harm inflicted on them by criminals."
Assemblymember Gary Pretlow said, "Our efforts to break the cycle of human trafficking must separate perpetrators from their victims. These crimes occur in every community and it will take a concerted effort to root out and punish the offenders and support public policies that empower survivors to move on."
Assemblymember Paulin said, "Human trafficking thrives in secrecy and exploits the fear of vulnerable individuals. By raising awareness and helping people and businesses understand the signs of trafficking and those it exploits, we can make it harder for these criminal operations to continue in our state."
Assemblymember Charles Lavine said, "It is unconscionable that anyone would subject a crime victim to further destabilization after reaching out for help. We can be effective at stopping this exploitation without causing more harm to survivors. The measures in this package will strengthen access to housing, crime victim's compensation and other support services that are so critical to recovery."
Assemblymember Matthew Titone said, "It's imperative that employees of casino and other gaming operations be required to receive human-trafficking detection training in order to help our state's law enforcement agencies more effectively crack down on this exploitation of human beings. If one knows what to look for, casinos are one of the places where one is most likely to see human trafficking in plain sight. By increasing awareness of the telltale signs of human trafficking among the gaming industry, we will be better able to protect, assist, and seek justice for the victims of this heinous crime."
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas said, "My bill is a common sense change to the state's penal law that will make it easier to punish the guilty and give rape survivors a sense of justice. It is our obligation to survivors that we ensure that the crime which anybody would recognize as a rape is unequivocally called rape by the law. Using other names adds insult to those who have already been unimaginably injured."