This evening, the New York Post is reporting that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has indicted at least one person, Anna Gristina, for running an underage prostitution ring in Manhattan. Shockingly, this brothel on East 78th Street – which will implicate a long roster of wealthy and prominent johns – purportedly had police protection from the NYPD. Aside from the possible criminal prosecution of police officers for their involvement in this sordid affair (not to mention the PR disaster that this represents for the NYPD), there may be another reason for the NYPD to be seriously concerned: the possibility of lawsuits.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and later passed the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act of 2003, which provided for a civil remedy in Federal court for victims against their traffickers. In a nutshell, victims of sex trafficking (for example, underage prostitutes) have the right to sue their pimps/traffickers for damages, lost wages, and punitive damages (which can be significant). Many other types of civil actions – including civil RICO claims – might lie for this conduct as well. These sorts of remedies are rarely pursued in these sad situations, however, as the pimps/traffickers typically do not have enough money to make a lawsuit worthwhile for the plaintiffs, and almost certainly never have enough money to truly make their victims whole, from a tort standpoint. However, this case presents a unique twist on this tragic story: potentially, the victims of trafficking may be able to sue the police officers that provided protection (and thereby assisted in the trafficking) and by proxy the City of New York (with its very deep pockets) for its failure to monitor its officers and prevent their misconduct. Indeed, this may be the case in which victims of sex trafficking could actually recover judgments worth millions of dollars.
Matthew Galluzzo, the author of this article, is a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer at Galluzzo & Johnson LLP. He served for years as a rape prosecutor in the famous Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and continues to volunteer his time to assist in the effort to eradicate sexual violence. If you or a loved one have been a victim of a sexual assault or sex trafficking, or been falsely accused of having committed such a crime, you should strongly consider calling him or emailing him to schedule a consultation.