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Official: Human Trafficking Court couldn’t provide the same help if prostitution was legal

Noelle E. C. Evans / WXXI News
Judge Ellen Yacknin announces the expansion of the Human Trafficking Intervention Court's services to Monroe County towns and villages outside of Rochester.

This week’s news that the Rochester Human Trafficking Intervention Court is expanding services across Monroe County to aid victims of sex trafficking comes after a failed attempt to decriminalize prostitution in New York state. 

The court admits people charged with prostitution crimes and gives them an opportunity to vacate those charges if they are victims of human trafficking.

“I just think it’s tremendously wonderful that we’ve been given an opportunity to give them an opportunity to be able to help them as victims rather than treat them as criminals themselves,” Yacknin says.

She says that if prostitution were decriminalized, the intervention courts would no longer be available.

"There can always be unintended consequences and if prostitution is decriminalized for the many reasons that many advocates are pushing for, so be it, but then our courts won’t be available in the same way to provide this help," Yacknin noted.

But advocate Crystal DeBoise with Decriminalize Sex Work says that human trafficking is very different from adult consensual prostitution, and the intervention courts don’t handle cases of labor trafficking, which she says are more common.

"There’s also sexual abuse in labor trafficking and a lot of it and among girls and women, or of girls and women and also boys and men," she says. "And so I think we really have to really broaden our horizons, uh, to take into account those survivors."

Decriminalize Sex Work is a national organization that has focused on changing policies around prostitution, including in New York state. This year, state legislation was introduced but not passed.

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