It’s almost as if it has some kind of invisibility cloak, like in Harry Potter.
Right in front of us, but out of sight.
Humans buying and selling other humans. Modern day slavery.
Women and children mostly, vulnerable and unprotected, kidnapped from their homes or taken in off the streets or coerced into someone else’s custody, transported across the borders and across the country and forced into a hellish life of hard labor and prostitution, pornography and drug trafficking.
It’s something we almost never think about, because it’s not obvious. And besides, who wants to think about that sort of thing happening in our communities, in our cities, in our country?
But according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were more than 10,500 reported cases of human trafficking in the country in 2020, the latest year for which statistics are available. Of those, the hotline reported 10,500 contacts with victims.
These statistics, while startling, don’t begin to touch the depth of the problem.
Even though the information is the most accurate available, it’s been collected through phone calls, texts, online chats, emails and online tip reports to the Trafficking Hotline.
How many others are out there who haven’t reached out, who haven’t been caught?
Here in New York, the hotline identified more than 1,700 contacts and nearly 630 calls from victims and survivors. Since 2007, the hotline has reported nearly 11,000 contacts and more than 4,000 total victims.
Between 2008 and 2019, New York made nearly 700 arrests and obtained 420 convictions for sex trafficking, along with 45 arrests and 34 convictions for labor trafficking.
But there are hopeful signs to celebrate this Christmas.
While human trafficking is still pervasive and largely still hidden, New York’s efforts to reach out to, care for and obtain justice for victims is growing.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act, which provides greater protections for survivors of human trafficking by allowing them to clear criminal records associated with their lives as victims of exploitation.
No one should have to carry a criminal record for crimes they might have committed while forced into a situation over which they had no control. Those crimes are not limited to prostitution, but also include fraud for presenting false documents forced upon victims by their traffickers in order to control them.
The bill (A0459/S0674) not only allows for the vacating of their convictions, but also provides a greater degree of confidentiality to help victims move forward with their lives and to protect them from retaliation from their traffickers.
That’s one way victims are being helped.
Another is at the local level.
Earlier this year, the Salvation Army in Saratoga Springs drew attention to the local problem and highlighted what’s being done to help victims by placing a want-ad for a second worker to provide group and counseling services for human trafficking victims.
Yes, a thriving, horse-loving, concert-going sophisticated city like Saratoga Springs needs multiple people to address human trafficking victims. In fact, tourist communities like Saratoga Springs and Lake George are popular targets for human trafficking.
Through early November, the Saratoga Springs Salvation Army had served nearly 50 victims and trained nearly 600 service professionals. With help from grants to provide help to youth victims, the agency provides case management, training, preventative services and outreach.
New York also operates an Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, a website and a hotline involving police and multiple human services agencies – using tougher state laws on prostitution and soliciting prostitution to target supply and demand.
The task force also collects data on the number of victims and the effectiveness of laws, evaluates approaches to public awareness, makes recommendations and issues an annual report.
The best defense against human trafficking is bringing it into the light to prevent and identify trafficking operations, and getting victims the help they need.
It’s happening. But for many, victims of human trafficking present and future, not fast enough.
If you’re a victim of human trafficking or are aware of human trafficking in your area, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text 233733.