Panel discusses human trafficking in New York state

The Oswego State Cutler Foundation and the Public Justice Department held a panel on human trafficking in New York, March 31. 

The conference, held in the Marano Campus Center, addressed the dangers of forced labor as an issue not only present abroad but arising locally as well.

The presentation was organized by Public Justice Professor Rivera Vazquez. Panelists included a judge, investigator, an immigration policy attorney and a specialist in social reform.

Gonzalo Martinez, a Coordinator of the North Country Human Trafficking task force and Worker Justice Center N.Y. representative explained that widespread advocacy is pertinent in moving traffickers off the streets.  

“Traffickers have to operate in the shadows to be able to do the business they do, raising awareness is the antidote to that,” Martinez said. “The more consumers know about where their products come from, the less likely it will be that we have forced labor in New York.” 

As modern-day slavery takes hold of the First World, Syracuse City Court Judge Theodore H. Limpert explained that systematic changes need to be made to circumvent the problem. 

“It’s starting in the courts, by treating the victims of human trafficking differently than they have been treated in the past,” Limpert said.

Currently, the Syracuse City Court is the third upstate court to hear all prostitution cases. 

The strategy allows the prostitutes of Syracuse city to trade in their criminal offense, for state-funded rehabilitation programs. The seminars encourage former sex workers to reconstruct a life without crime. 

“These women develop a bond with these traffickers and it is very hard to break,” Limpert said. “If we can start getting at the underlying problems that they have, mental health issues and drugs issues, we can resolve human trafficking.” 

According to a 2007 Trafficking In Person report by the U.S Department of State, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and 50 percent are minors. Estelle Davis, counsel of the Department of Labor to the Division of Immigrant Policies and Affairs, explained that while all communities are affected by traffickers, migrant women are marginalized by predators.

“Trafficking can affect all populations including immigrant women, we see a lot of cases with immigrants,” Davis said. “It’s not just a labor law violation that this person isn’t being paid, when you get to the level where your using force, fraud or coercion, then it’s a criminal act.”

After several years of abuse, 12-year-old Barbara Amaya of North Richmond, VA, quickly became a target for human traffickers. The runaway teen was kidnapped on the streets of our nation’s capital, she was then sold to a sex trafficker in New York. Amaya was trafficked for eight years, according to a report by the Richmond Justice Initiative, a non-profit advocate agency for trafficked persons.

However, Amaya is not alone. Capt. Mark Lincoln of the State Bureau of Criminal Investigation, explained that in 2013, a 16-year-old Utica teen, referred to as “Jane” during the discussion, was forced into sex work after being picked up on a street corner by a trafficker. “Jane” was then advertised as a prostitute on the backpage website

“These are terrible predators…they have no consideration for these children and what they go through,” Lincoln said. “They put them through unspeakable acts for no reason other than power and money.”

In 2007, New York State, enacted the anti-human trafficking law, a judiciary step toward systematic freedom for trafficking victims. Lincoln explained the issue is prevalent in Upstate New York and it is important to advocate for people forced into silence by traffickers.

“It’s a terrible phenomenon, it is going on every day in Central New York,” Lincoln said. “It’s out there, it happens and we all need to do what we can.”

Since 2013, over 14,500 people have been trafficked across the U.S. 30 million victims have been trafficked worldwide.

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