"Child victimization is one of the most abhorrent acts that could ever be committed.”
- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
My name is Lashauna Cutts and I am the Director of JCCA’s Gateways program. Gateways is a residential treatment program for commercially sexually exploited girls in New York. Nearly every day, I have to turn away a girl in need of treatment because our 13-bed program is full.
In 2008, New York State passed The Safe Harbor Act to provide critical services for the growing number of children who are forced into prostitution. The Act authorized $10 Million in funds, however, since the passage, zero dollars have been spent. We had hoped that with Safe Harbor, there would be many more services for sexually exploited children.
Our program changes lives. We have helped dozens of girls since we opened three years ago. Tiffany is an example of the program’s success. She was placed in Gateways after being commercially sexually exploited by a physically violent and abusive pimp. She came from a troubled family and, at 15, met a 30-year-old man named Nick. He convinced her that he was the only one who truly cared for her. Within weeks, she moved in with him. However, Nick soon turned violent, repeatedly raping her, and forcing her to have sex with other men for money. Tiffany attempted to leave on several occasions, but he would always threaten or beat her. At age 16, Nick beat Tiffany unconscious; as a result of this incident, she fled and was placed in the Gateways program. Like many young people suffering from exploitive abuse, Tiffany had a hard time breaking the bonds with her abuser. Through individual, family, group, and peer counseling, Tiffany was able to be reunited with her family. She is now enrolled in dual college credit/GED program and planning for her future.
Children in New York are being lured into prostitution by pimps who offer false promises of love, and then control the children with extreme violence and degradation. Recognizing this as a serious problem, the New York State Legislature took action but has failed to provide the funding needed to produce meaningful change.
We must fight to keep these young people safe and provide a comprehensive array of services. New York took the lead and was the first State to pass legislation that required treatment of these victimized children, instead of punishment. Now New York needs to take the lead and fund the services. Without funding, these children will have little chance to recover from their exploitation and lead fulfilling and productive lives.
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