Human trafficking is equivalent to the crime of slavery, with all its associated brutality.
It takes countless individuals and strips them of their dignity and freedom.
Unfortunately, this crime is far more common than many think.
That’s why I’m joining advocates from around the world who recognized January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking and taking steps to put an end to this horrible crime — as well as supporting survivors.
In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline received 20,424 calls and had 5,748 cases of human trafficking reported.
While no group is immune, it’s children who are the most vulnerable to traffickers.
Human trafficking has affected children across the globe, including right here in the Capital Region where a 14-year-old girl was sold into prostitution and forced to sell her body.
This is a story we know, but there are far too many others that we never hear about.
Unfortunately, these stories aren’t uncommon — the average age of local trafficking victims is around 16 years old.
That’s why I supported a bill in the Assembly that treats survivors of sexual exploitation as the victims they are, rather than criminals, because they deserve our support rather than stigma (A.1030).
In an effort to aid human trafficking victims, I co-sponsored legislation that would strengthen the procedures for identifying trafficked persons and improve services for them, including providing housing and counseling (A.3223).
I also co-sponsored a bill that would create a human trafficking recognition training program for hotel and casino employees (A.7034).
Another bill I helped pass ensures companies bidding for state contracts must guarantee that goods, work or services supplied or performed are done so without the aid of any organization, person or entity engaging in human trafficking (A.6380-C).
Another disturbing issue involves child marriages, where girls too young to vote, drive a car, or open a bank account are married off to much older men by their parents.
Children as young as 14 years old shouldn’t be getting married, yet it was still happening in New York.
Between 2000 and 2010, there were 3,900 child marriages that took place.
These harmful marriages put children at risk. Girls who are married before 18 are three times more likely to be abused by their spouse than women who marry at 21 or older, and child marriages have been found to be linked to human trafficking.
I helped put an end to this disconcerting practice by passing a new law that raises the minimum age for marriage to 18 — or 17 with judicial consent (Ch. 35 of 2017).
Further, New York state is helping combat human trafficking with the Safe Harbor program, assisting counties with identifying victims of human trafficking and individuals at risk of victimization.
Schenectady, Albany, and Rensselaer counties participate in the program. Human trafficking remains an important issue that deserves our attention.
Together, we can fight this heinous practice and help survivors recover and rebuild their lives.
Phillip G. Steck represents New York State Assembly District 110, which is comprised of the eastern tip of Schenectady and northeastern tip of Albany County.