By Lisa Anderson
NEW YORK, Dec 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A coalition of more than 120 leaders in business, government, media, the arts and human rights on Tuesday launched a campaign to end human slavery and trafficking in New York State.
The so-called "New York's New Abolitionists" programme, designed to raise awareness through a travelling exhibit of individual photo portraits of the group, includes a number of prominent New Yorkers such as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg and comedians Tina Fey and Seth Meyers.
"Let's make it clear: slavery is not someone else's nightmare," said Dorchen Leidholdt, legal director of Sanctuary for Families, noting that on any given night about 4,000 children in New York State are victims of sex trafficking.
The initiative was conceived by Sanctuary for Families, New York's largest provider of services for survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking, and the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, an umbrella group of more than 140 anti-trafficking organisations.
Vance said that law enforcement in New York and elsewhere was slow to recognise that sex trafficking victims were viewed as criminals more often than those who pimped them or paid for them.
"Twenty-five years later, we are at a different place in law enforcement," he said, where traffickers are being prosecuted and the victims are being given the support they need to rebuild their lives with the help of agencies like Sanctuary for Families.
Part of the campaign, which includes educational and social media components, will push for passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act which will be reintroduced in the New York State legislature in January.
The act would make sex trafficking a violent felony, raise the penalty for labour trafficking, clarify that sex trafficking victims should not be criminalised or convicted of prostitution and establish that the sex trafficking of children is a coercive crime.
"Here is a sad statistic," said CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, a member of the abolitionist group. "One in three teens who runs away will be driven into prostitution within 48 hours."
(Reporting by Lisa Anderson, Editing by Maria Caspani)
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