Safe Harbor Act Becomes Law

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After four years of aggressive advocacy, the Juvenile Justice Coalition, coordinated by the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project, helped to secure a major legislative victory in late September when Governor David Paterson signed into law the Safe Harbor Act for Exploited Children.

The Safe Harbor Act will prevent the state from prosecuting and incarcerating children on prostitution charges, providing New York’s youngest victims of commercial sexual exploitation with the same protections that have been extended to their foreign counterparts under federal and state law. Safe Harbor requires the state to create a range of specialized community-based services—such as community outreach, crisis intervention, short-term safe houses, and long-term housing—that more appropriately meet the needs of sexually exploited youth. To allow time for the state to implement these new services, the legislation will officially take effect on April 1, 2010.

The Coalition worked tirelessly to draft, lobby, and advocate for this groundbreaking proposal. After encountering various legislative roadblocks over the years, it finally passed both legislative houses this past July with unanimous support, and was signed by the governor on September 26, 2008.

New York is now one of only three states to have passed legislation recognizing that children coerced into the commercial sex trade domestically should be treated as victims, not as criminals. We commend Governor David Paterson for signing this landmark bill into law, and thank Assemblymember William Scarborough, Senator Dale Volker and all their staff for championing the legislation.

We congratulate the entire Juvenile Justice Coalition and the many other organizations working on this issue for their determined effort. In particular, we salute Mishi Faruqee, former Director of the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project and current Director of Youth Justice Programs at Children’s Defense Fund; Cait Mullen of the Legal Aid Society-Juvenile Rights Practice; Rachel Lloyd, founder and Director of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS); and DeAvery Irons, CA Juvenile Justice Project Associate. We especially send our heartfelt thanks and praise to the young women at GEMS who boldly advocated for this legislation in Albany.

The CA will now adopt a monitoring role, working with its allies in the field to ensure that the state allocates enough money to provide quality services for sexually exploited children.