Governor Cuomo: Fund housing and services for trafficked children
"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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- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
- Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos
- New York State House
- New York State Senate
- New York Governor
I write to ask you to support funding The Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act. If funded, this bill will provide many of our State’s most vulnerable children with desperately needed safety, housing and services.
The Safe Harbor Act was signed into law on September 25, 2008. This legislation is aimed at providing critical services for the growing number of children who are exploited and forced to sell sex.
Due to lack of funding, the promise of the Safe Harbor Act is still unrealized. There are thousands of sexually exploited youth in New York. There are currently fewer than 50 beds state-wide designated for trafficked youth. As a first step in implementing the Safe Harbor Act, we ask that the New York State Legislature fund:
1. Short-term emergency housing: Without a place to take sexually exploited children, police fail to keep them off the streets or put them in jail in an effort to keep them safe. We must provide emergency shelter for these vulnerable children.
2. A long-term treatment facility: A long-term safe house with specialized services is urgently needed to provide sexually exploited children with ongoing safety and support.
3. Specialized Services: It is critical that young people identified as sexually exploited begin to receive specialized services immediately, including but not limited to counseling, group therapy and assistance with public benefits.
4. Police Training: The police are currently being trained to better identify sexually exploited children. However, they are not being trained to connect those children with much needed services. Without a referral to a service provider and a bed to sleep in, these children are forced to go back onto the street.
5. Long-term, therapeutic specially trained foster homes: Evidence has shown that therapeutically trained foster homes can tremendously help a sexually exploited child.
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 to pass legislature that required treatment instead of punishment with Safe Harbor. Now it needs to take the lead and actually fund the services.
Due to lack of funding, the promise of the Safe Harbor Act is still unrealized. There are thousands of sexually exploited youth in New York who are not receiving the shelter and services the Act promises. As a first step in implementing the Safe Harbor Act, I ask that New York State fund the Safe Harbor Act with $3 million for housing and services.
Now is the time to stand up and fight for these children.
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