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Pimps Tattoo Bar Code on Victim's Neck

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Pimps brand their victims the way Nike brands its shoes.

A 16 year-old girl Nicholas Kristoff identified as "Taz" in today's New York Times op-ed "She Has a Pimp's Name Etched on Her" was "branded" on her neck with a safety pin when she refused a tattoo. According to Kristoff's op-ed, three other girls were forcibly branded by their pimp, including a victim who was tattooed and bar coded on the neck.

Has our society regressed? Are we reliving the eighteenth century slave trade practice? It certainly seems that way, when you read about the atrocities committed by 'civilized' adult males selling children and adults for sex. A slave trade that is taking place daily -- in our own back yard -- in large metropolitan cities such as: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, DC, Atlanta, etc... and exploding.

The good news is that unlike most DA's across the country, who either don't enforce the trafficking legislation or lay the burden of proof on the victim rather than the pimp, New York finally took a firm position to the contrary. On May 2, 2012, The New York Times reported another case "Prosecutors Focus on Pimps and Clients, Instead of Prostitutes," where the ringleaders (a father and son team), in a prostitution case -- that is a trafficking case, since most law enforcement officials can't figure out the difference -- were accused of pimping their victims "like traveling saleswomen."

The two pimps branded the prostitutes with tattoos using their monikers. One of the victim's was tattooed with a bar code. The interesting part of that case, according to the Times, is not how the ringleaders prostituted the girls or the women per se (who were not underage). On the contrary, the case focused on the prosecution rather than the prostitution. That is, the men in the case were charged with sex trafficking (which was added to the New York penal code five years ago) and not the other way round.

The case, according to the Manhattan DA's office, is "helping to redefine how law enforcement agencies approach organized prostitution in Manhattan," wrote Kristoff. "These are sad cases," said Mr. Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA, "they [victims] basically live as slaves."

Across the U.S. and in most prostitution cases, the victims are indicted for prostitution while the 'Johns' are given 90 days behind bars. In this case, the prostitutes were treated as victim's and offered social services to help them rebuild their lives. They were not placed behind bars.

Finally, an intelligent DA who understands the underlying issues and challenges facing most young prostitutes in our society today. Which reminds me of the old adage "the apple does not fall far from the tree." Mr. Vance Jr., much like his great father, Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, who paved the way for the arms reduction negotiations under the Carter administration, seems to be paving a new path as well. This time, Mr. Vance Jr., might just lead the abolitionists into the twenty first century anti trafficking movement.

So, back to the prostitution case. In the latter case, the victims (all adults) were offered social services and not sent to jail; an unprecedented approach in most domestic prostitution cases. Like Kristoff who pointed out this issue, I too have been told by a number of law enforcement officials that the problem facing prosecution during most domestic prostitution cases is that "in general, a victim must be moved across borders for the purpose of prostitution before federal prosecutors have jurisdiction."

Luckily, the New York State law passed in 2007 has no such limitation. According to the Times article by Russ Buettner, "it broadly defines sex trafficking via the methods a pimp uses to control a prostitute." For example, if a pimp uses force, fraud or coercion, then the pimp will be charged under the trafficking legislation. Under the old law, pimps faced up to 15 years in prison for pimping prostitutes with an adult. The new bill includes a sex trafficking component carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years. Also under the new legislation, the customers who pay adult prostitutes for sex can go to jail for one year rather than the mere 90 days.

According to Kristoff and legal court documents sent, "there have been 150 arrests on the new sex trafficking charge since the legislation took effect on November 1, 2007. Seventy of the 150 cases remain open. Of the 80 indictments, only 13 have been convicted on the sex trafficking charge."

It is time to change these statistics.

For the first time in criminal history, these new laws spotlight the issue of sex trafficking in America and secondly, send a loud and clear message to pimps, Johns and victims. That is, the DA's (who enforce the new law) are now willing to protect and rescue vulnerable young women; and secondly, the abusers will be firmly prosecuted.

The time has come to abolish sex slavery in America.

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