That’s the time it takes to get from one end of the weekend to the other.
It’s also the time it takes a homeless youth on the streets of Schenectady to be approached by a pimp targeting them for a life of sexual exploitation.
That’s who the sex traffickers prey upon. It’s these children their customers seek out. It’s these children who suffer the physical and emotional pain that, if they survive, will follow them throughout their lives.
The stories told by survivors and police and social service workers about what these children are exposed to and what they’re forced to do would make your skin crawl. While you’re rousting your teenagers out of bed to go to school and shuffling them off to soccer practice, sex traffickers are forcing children just like yours to have sex with several men a day, holding them hostage and punishing them with violence if they try to escape.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported more than 200 cases of human trafficking last year.
Officials believe that number is really much higher.
In an expose on New York City’s sex trafficking published in April 2018, The New York Post called it a “silent epidemic.” The expose quotes officials as saying the number of prosecutions and rescues only scratches the surface.
But if you think it’s just a big-city problem, you’d be horribly wrong. It happens everywhere. It happens here.
Schenectady is a particularly attractive target for sex traffickers because of its proximity to interstates and New York City.
Fortunately, the problem is not being ignored in our area.
In fact, efforts to fight it are ramping up.
An article in Friday’s Gazette highlighted two signs of light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
One came from Sheila Wood, the new director of SAFE Inc., an organization in Schenectady that addresses teenage homelessness and exploitation.
Wood said she plans to expand the community and educational outreach of the 34-year-old organization in order to better promote its services. That includes operating a 12-bed temporary youth shelter, counseling, and access to social services organizations. She also wants to secure more grants to help these exploited children, expand the nonprofit’s connection to service agencies and enlist more volunteers.
All of these efforts are necessary and welcome to battle a complex problem that often involves substance abuse, domestic abuse and other issues.
Social media and the internet have also made the problem more challenging to enforce and more difficult to identify suspects and victims.
Another point of light comes from Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, who revealed that he’s in talks with the state Office of Court Administration to start a human trafficking intervention court that would serve the Schenectady area and surrounding communities.
Such courts are designed to create alternatives to incarceration for victims of human trafficking and to help them find ways into social services, mental health care, housing, education and jobs.
Organizers bring in stakeholders from all areas of the criminal justice system — including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and other advocates — to work in collaboration helping victims.
There are at least 10 such courts operating in the state right now, including one in each of the five New York City counties, on Long Island, in Westchester and in the Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo areas.
Even though they’ve only been operating for a few years, these specialized courts have made a big difference in the lives of many exploited children.
Last year, for example, the five New York City human trafficking intervention courts served more than 1,300 people citywide, including 600 in Queens, where the first such court in the state was convened in 2013.
“Blowin’ Up,” a 2018 documentary released to wide distribution in the U.S. last month, focuses on the challenges and successes of the Queens intervention court.
The documentary provides an unclouded look at human trafficking, the issues faced by the victims in dealing with their captors and the justice system, and the efforts of those who are trying to help them.
The term “blowin’ up” refers to the term used by victims who’ve severed ties with their pimps.
Here’s a link to the movie’s website: https://www.blowinupfilm.com/.
As we in the media say when we’re talking about government transparency, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Bringing attention to this problem, focusing public attention on the victims, spotlighting the efforts of those who are in the trenches battling it, and securing assistance for solutions are the best ways to bring about an end to it.
But this problem is not going away soon.
The more we learn about it and the more resources we dedicate to it, the more children we can prevent from falling into this life.