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They call it the oldest profession in the world. But prostitution and sex trafficking, in many respects, is also one of the last surviving forms of slavery in this country and throughout the globe. Which is why it’s good to know that the state of New York is going to start treating men, women, boys and girls who are working in the sex trade, whether voluntarily or through coercion, as victims and not criminals.

The state will attempt to steer these individuals toward medical treatment, job training and other services to lead them away from the sex trafficking industry.

Chief judge, Jonathan Lippman announced the initiative Wednesday, noting that it was the first of its kind in the country.

Under the new system, prostitution cases that go beyond arraignment will be sent to a special trafficking court. There, a judge, prosecutor and defense attorney will discuss. If they find that the defendant is a victim in need of help they will refer that person to services tailored to their needs, including drug treatment, education, job training, health care or immigration help, among others.

Defendants who comply with the recommended services will have their charges dropped.

The state is establishing special courts to handle prostitution cases and expects most of them to be set up by the end of next month. Lippman believes the program could help thousands involved in the industry.

While Judge Lippman acknowledged that prostitution is criminal, he also noted that the special courts will make efforts to ensure that “there will be no further victimization of these defendants by a society that can be divorced from the realities of this modern-day form of servitude.”

Lippman explained that a vast majority of people charged with prostitution crimes are being exploited or at the risk of exploitation. Often in sex trafficking the victims are forced into prostitution attempting to pay back a debt or with the threat of physical harm.

Advocates against human trafficking also note the importance of mandating and enforcing stronger penalties for the people who fuel this industry, like johns and the traffickers themselves.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court, noted that these services will be offered at no further cost to the tax payer. All expenses will be handled by the various service organizations.

Bookstaver also noted that fewer sex trafficking cases will free up the courts and end up saving money in the long run. But more importantly, he said, “You’re saving people’s lives.”

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