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Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP Teams with The Legal Aid Society to Vacate Criminal Convictions of Human Trafficking Victims

Friday, January 13, 2012

  • Organization: The Legal Aid Society

The Legal Aid Society recently was awarded a two-year grant from the NoVo Foundation to implement the Trafficking Victims Legal Defense and Advocacy Project ("TVLDAP"), an innovative interdisciplinary pilot project that addresses the comprehensive needs of victims of human trafficking who are arrested and prosecuted for prostitution in New York County. Thousands of foreign nationals are trafficked annually into the United States. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with hundreds of thousands of American children at high risk of trafficking into the sex industry each year. In 2010, there were over 2,700 prostitution-related arrests in New York City. A significant number of those arrested for prostitution related charges are victims of exploitation and trafficking. The extent of this victimization rarely is revealed as these cases are processed in Criminal Court. Under current practice, trafficking victims continue to be criminalized as they cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.

Cleary Gottlieb has joined with The Legal Aid Society to represent victims of human trafficking as they seek vacatur of prior prostitution convictions under a recently enacted New York law. Their efforts will provide these exploited individuals a second chance, eliminating the devastating consequences of the criminal convictions. Firm partner Lewis Liman, a Director of the Society, and Jennifer Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Practice, will head the Cleary legal team. Legal work is supported and enhanced by a Legal Aid clinical social worker and interns.

TVLDAP’s success in this context was recently highlighted in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, and Reuters, which reported the first American citizen to have her prostitution conviction overturned under New York's sex-trafficking law. The victim, now 22, was forced into the sex trade at the age of 13. This is a landmark moment," Steve Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society said of the innovative new law. "There are thousands of women who will benefit over time. It removes a blot on their lives."

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