Bella was 12 when she was exploited in prostitution. As a pre-pubescent child, she was viciously beaten by her trafficker and repeatedly raped by sex buyers in the Bronx and other counties throughout New York State.
Despite the violence she endured, Bella's trafficker could not be charged with the violent felony of sex trafficking, because in NY, sex trafficking is classified as a non-violent crime.
The NY laws aren't any better holding people who buy children accountable. A person who commits statutory rape receives a higher penalty than a person who buys sex from that same child, signaling that the child who has been bought is less worthy of protection.
This is the state of affairs in New York.
And yet, there is a simple and viable solution: The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. This bill seeks to make sex trafficking a violent felony when there is physical injury. It levels the penalties between statutory rape and buying that same child for sex. It provides law enforcement with better tools to make cases against traffickers.
The substance of the bill is not controversial. In fact, the proposed legislation is widely supported by both the Senate and the Assembly.
Last week, the Senate passed the TVPJA -- unanimously.
And now it's the assembly's turn. But with four days left to make this bill law, there is strong opposition preventing this important protection from passing.
The reason - politics.
In a legislative standoff, key assembly members say if the senate will not pass all 10 provisions of the women's equality agenda, they will not pass the TVPJA.
Their slogan: Nine isn't enough.
I agree. Nine isn't enough. As a woman's rights advocate, I want (and will fight for) all ten. But I recognize that for girls like Bella they need the protections of the TVPJA today. I also recognize that nine is better than zero!
It is time that Albany sets aside politics and protects people. Doesn't Bella deserve better?