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August 26, 2008
Human Trafficking Task Force Releases First Annual Report
Much accomplished, much to be done
ALBANY – A New York State task force today released a series of recommendations aimed at further strengthening what is already the nation’s most comprehensive approach to the scourge of human trafficking.
The recommendations were included in the first annual report of the Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, which represents 10 state agencies committed to enforcing New York’s human trafficking law through a unified and coordinated effort. The law, which was enacted on June 6, 2007 and took effect on Nov. 1, 2007, moved New York to the forefront in the battle against human trafficking.
Task Force co-chairs David A. Hansell, commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), and Denise E. O’Donnell, commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), said that over the last several months the foundation has been built to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking and aid the victims.
“By most accounts, New York’s law is the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation,” Commissioners O’Donnell and Hansell said in a letter distributed with the report to Governor David A. Paterson and the Legislature. “It provides law enforcement with potent new tools to combat this modern form of slavery and, crucially, it establishes services and assistance for victims.”
The Task Force noted that the legislation represents not only a new law, but also a new way of viewing a problem that, for way too long, was largely out of sight and out of mind. Over the past year, considerable progress has been made in education and training.
For instance, police and prosecutors need to consider the possibility that what appears to be a routine prostitution or undocumented worker case may be something far more insidious and sinister. Similarly, victims need to be assured that if they come forward they will be helped rather than prosecuted or deported.
Traditionally, human trafficking is a difficult crime to detect, largely because victims are hidden from public view and the means used by traffickers to control their victims are many times subtle.
Since the law took effect on November 1, 2007, according to the report:
- Thirty six persons were confirmed by DCJS in consultation with OTDA as victims of human trafficking for purposes of accessing services and assistance.
- Most (27 of 36) of the confirmed victims are female, and they range in age from 16 to 52 and come from disparate locations. Six are United States citizens.
- Thirty are foreign born. Of the foreign-born victims, eleven are from Asia, eighteen are from Latin America, and one is from South America.
- Nineteen of the victims were trafficked for prostitution. Seventeen of the victims were trafficked for labor. Trafficking occurred in restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, and on a farm.
- Twenty-eight of the victims (representing five cases) were trafficked upstate; the remaining eight (six cases) were trafficked downstate.
The first indictment under the new law was announced in Queens on June 18 in the case of a 22-year-old man suspected of using intimidation and threats of murder to force a teenage girl to perform sex acts on about a dozen customers a day. Several other cases are in the investigative stage.
The landmark legislation enacted last year created a new Class B felony for those who engage in sex trafficking and a Class D felony for those who engage in labor trafficking. It also removed legal ambiguities to ensure that prosecutors can bring charges against purveyors of so-called “prostitution tourism,” established a broad range of services for victims and created an Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking.
The Task Force was established to coordinate services, train law enforcement and reach out to potential victims. In addition to DCJS and OTDA, the interagency task force includes the Department of Health, the Office of Mental Health, the Department of Labor, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the Crime Victims Board, the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the State Police.
In its first annual account, the Task Force reported on: the establishment of a victims services program; statewide training to law enforcement personnel; collaboration between various government agencies, law enforcement, and nongovernmental entities; and awareness-raising activities statewide. However, it said that while “much has been accomplished … much remains to be done.”
The report makes the following recommendations based on what was learned during the first year:
- Expanding training of and coordination between state law enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE), service providers, and non-law enforcement agencies likely to encounter human trafficking victims.
- Expanding outreach and public awareness efforts.
- Establishing a statewide directory of service providers capable of serving human trafficking victims.
- Improving the delivery of services for U.S. citizen, eligible alien and child human trafficking victims who do not qualify for the full range of Response to Human Trafficking Program-funded services.
- Expanding safe housing options for human trafficking victims.
- Promoting federal legislation to facilitate the ability of foreign-born human trafficking victims to obtain lawful immigration status and federal assistance.
- Enhancing law enforcement strategies directed toward persons who exploit prostitutes and employ forced labor in New York State.
- Exploring the development of prostitution diversion courts.
The full report can be viewed on the OTDA website (www.otda.state.ny.us) and the DCJS website (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov).