District Attorney Melinda Katz announced the creation of a Human Trafficking Bureau on Monday.
The bureau will combat sex and labor trafficking by prosecuting traffickers and buyers of sex and will connect survivors of trafficking with services to help escape.
“The sex trafficking industry is a brutal, degrading and illegal enterprise that far too often profits by forcing women, children and members of our transgender community into prostitution,” Katz said in a release.
She said the bureau is meant to end the industry as well as help “the victims find a path to freedom with services and programs that will give them positive change in their lives and a future without fear.”
Katz pointed to recent prosecutions in holding people accountable. A 23-year-old man was convicted of sex trafficking a 16-year-old victim, and a 31-year-old man pleaded guilty to attempted murder for an attack against his transgender girlfriend after she refused to continued to engage in prostitution.
The announcement was met with some criticism from those who would legalize prostitution.
“To effectively combat sex trafficking, we need to decriminalize sex work,” tweeted Tiffany Cabán, who lost a close race to Katz in the Democratic primary for DA last summer. “That means sellers *and* buyers. This policy does not serve public health or public safety. It makes an already vulnerable sex work community, more vulnerable.”
The public defender added that “sex work is survival work” for people experiencing barriers to housing, healthcare and job opportunities because of discrimination.
“We all know and love a sex worker,” Cabán tweeted.
Cabán said criminalization creates an environment where some police officers “harass, coerce & threaten sex workers in order to get information on buyers that lead to arrests. It creates opportunities for more state sanctioned violence. So no, this policy ain’t it.”
State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-East Elmhurst) also voiced criticism.
“Prosecuting buyers of sex will only put more people in danger,” she tweeted Monday. “Customers won’t be incentivized to give sex workers their real name, thus rendering sex workers defenseless if a customer becomes violent.”
There are 24.9 million victims of sex and labor trafficking in the world, according to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the U.S. Department of State.
Jessica Melton, who was awarded the Thomas E. Dewey medal by the New York City Bar Association for her work in combating human trafficking in 2013, is the chief of the bureau.