New York Child Victims Act Helps Online Sex Trafficking Victims

Posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 at 3:15 pm    

It seems that more online sex trafficking cases are in the news each day. According to a report from Internet Safety 101, “sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult or induces a minor to commit a commercial sex act.

Within the state of New York, online human trafficking plays a significant role in contributing to child sexual abuse. Traffickers use the internet as a tool to take advantage of vulnerable, unsuspecting young internet users solely for the sake of financial gain.

Much like “grooming” tactics used by child sex abusers, online traffickers will target a victim, and then lure that victim into an online relationship. An online trafficker will typically pressure their target into meeting in-person, with the ultimate goal of coercing or forcing their target into prostitution.

According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “human trafficking [is] believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world . . . [it] is a form of human slavery that . . . includes forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking. It involves both U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, and has no demographic restrictions.” Unfortunately, children are some of the most vulnerable targets of online sex traffickers.

Easier for Survivors to Pursue Legal Action Against Child Sex Traffickers

Although online sex trafficking continues to be a prevalent avenue for predators to gain access to children, there is a new source of hope for survivors of this type of abuse. Thanks to the New York Child Victims Act (CVA), it is now easier for victims of child sex trafficking to pursue legal action against their abusers, even if that abuse took place decades ago.

Melanie Thompson, a now 23-year-old youth outreach coordinator for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women for New York, is an example of someone who is pursuing legal action against sex traffickers who abused her when she was a child.

When Thompson was only 12 years old, she was held against her will and forced into prostitution by a man who sold her on the streets and in an underground sex trafficking ring.

Her dire situation got even worse when her abuser began advertising her on a website called Backpage.com. These advertisements exposed her to more buyers — and even more abuse.

“As a result of being advertised for sex on Backpage.com, Melanie was repeatedly raped, sexually abused, and exploited by men who purchased her for sex,” according to the case files.

The managers of the website at the time, former CEO Carl Ferrer and founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin, are now defendants in Thompson’s lawsuit. Even though these site managers understood that Thompson was a minor who was being advertised for prostitution, they still turned a blind eye to the abuse and enabled Thompson’s primary abuser.

In April 2018, the United States Department of Justice seized Backpage for a federal investigation. Ferrer has since pled guilty to both money laundering and conspiracy and has agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Scheduled to appear in court in May 2020, Larkin and Lacey have both pleaded not guilty to all counts against them.

The New York Child Victims Act has updated the statute of limitations (from 23 years old to 55 years old) for survivors of child sexual abuse to pursue legal action against their sex trafficking abusers.

Furthermore, the Child Victims Act has opened up a one year “look back” window, which allows survivors to pursue civil lawsuits that would have been previously blocked by New York’s former statute of limitations.

Now, thousands of other survivors of childhood sexual abuse are bravely coming forward with their experiences. Since the year-long “look back” window opened on August 14, 2019, over 1,300 civil lawsuits against alleged sexual abusers have been filed.

Although this window is scheduled to close on August 14, 2020, public officials are calling for an extension so that more victims of child sex abuse have the opportunity to come forward. Having the “look back” window open means that thousands of survivors of online sex trafficking may now seek justice against their abusers.

Child Sex Trafficking: What Is It?

According to United States Federal Law (22 USC § 7102), sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”

In sex-trafficking cases where the victim has not reached the age of 18, it is not necessary to demonstrate force, fraud, or coercion.

Although online sex traffickers are known to target children from every socioeconomic background, some children are more vulnerable than others. Traffickers typically target children who:

  • Seem to spend a lot of time alone and unsupervised
  • Appear depressed, anxious, or lonely
  • Seem emotionally isolated from friends and family
  • Have low self-worth or diminished self-esteem
  • Are victims of domestic violence and abuse
  • Have run away from home, or are homeless
  • Are refugees of war or conflict
  • Have experienced consistent socioeconomic discrimination

While teens between the ages of 12 and 19 are the most common targets of online sex traffickers, some victims have been much younger than that.

According to investigative journalist Amy Fine Collins of Vanity Fair magazine, “It’s become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a ‘righteous’ pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.”

How Do Online Child Sex Traffickers Lure Their Victims?

In many cases, online child sex traffickers will lure children into their traps by using many of the same tactics that child sexual abusers use. These tactics include:

  • Gaining the trust and favor of the victim by showering them with love and affection
  • Making false promises to the victim, such as ensuring them of a better life, more money, or better opportunities
  • Isolating the victim from friends and family
  • Emotionally manipulating and shaming the victim into doing things they would not normally do
  • Convincing the victim to keep the relationship hidden from friends and family
  • Pressuring the victim into meeting up in-person, alone

Unfortunately, the increasing use of social media sites by children makes finding targets easy for online sex traffickers. According to a report from the San Diego County News Center, “Finding girls is easy for pimps. They look on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networks. They and their assistants cruise malls, high schools and middle schools. They pick them up at bus stops. On the trolley. Girl-to-girl recruitment sometimes happens.”

In multiple investigations conducted by national child advocacy groups, researchers estimate that over 100,000 children in the United States are being exploited within sex trafficking rings every year. Even more disturbing is the fact that younger and younger children are becoming victims of sex trafficking each year.

According to an account from a 25-year-old victim of sex trafficking, “For every ten women rescued, there are 50 to 100 more women who are brought in by the traffickers. Unfortunately, they’re not 18 or 20-year-olds anymore. They’re minors as young as 13 who are being trafficked . . . They’re little girls.”

What Are The Signs of Sex Trafficking?

The most important thing you can do to prevent child sex trafficking is to educate yourself on the signs. By understanding how a child sex trafficking victim might appear or behave, you could potentially save someone’s life. According to a report from the New York State Attorney General, these are the most common ways to recognize a victim of sex trafficking:

  • A victim avoids eye contact
  • A victim may sometimes have distinctive brands, scars, or tattoos
  • A victim is paranoid or fearful of law enforcement officers
  • A victim does not have control of their own money
  • A victim’s communication with others is restricted or controlled
  • A victim is not allowed to travel or leave working conditions alone
  • A victim exhibits fear, anxiety, depression, submission, tension, and/or nervousness
  • A victim has bruising, frequent injuries, poor health, and/or appears malnourished
  • A victim seems to be extremely young, or under the age of eighteen

If you suspect that someone you have interacted with is the victim of child sex trafficking, you need to take immediate action by contacting your local law enforcement officials as soon as possible.

Getting Help With Your Child Sex Trafficking Abuse Case

If you or someone you love has been forced to cope with the physical, emotional, and financial impact of child sex trafficking abuse, you have every right to feel angry, sad, frightened, and overwhelmed. No child should have to face the horrors of sexual abuse day in and day out, just because they are in one of the most vulnerable positions of their life.

At Hach & Rose, LLP our compassionate team of attorneys wants you to know that you have every right to pursue legal action against your abuser, as well as every single party that enabled your abuser’s heinous acts.

While we know that no amount of financial compensation could ever make up for a child’s stolen innocence, our dedicated team of attorneys will do everything in their power to pursue justice on your behalf. Even if your abuse took place years ago, and you believe you can no longer pursue legal action, you may still have a strong case under New York’s Child Victims Act.

To discuss your rights and legal options, call our office at (212) 779-0057 now to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

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