January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Unity House was honored to be among community partners on a panel for Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January. Hosted at the University at Albany and facilitated by the UAlbany Students Stopping Trafficking of People, the event was sponsored by the New York State Interagency Task Force on Trafficking. The discussion brought together students and members of the community to take a closer look at trafficking in the Capital Region, an area with characteristics that can be exploited by traffickers. Advocates discussed the nature of human trafficking and its nuances during a panel discussion.
It’s important for the public to realize that cases can take on forms that don’t always match common preconceptions. As explained at the event, instances of human trafficking don’t always involve a criminal syndicate or the places of business frequently associated with such crimes. Traffickers can operate in private homes, forcing their victims into roles of domestic servitude, such as caretakers or cleaner. The ability of abusers to coerce their targets can be so powerful that even the trafficking victims themselves can be slow to recognize the abuse.
Our region can attract individuals who discover the metropolitan area is too expensive. The suburban and rural areas outside its city centers also have fewer public transportation options, which can leave victims stranded with little recourse to flee their traffickers. Likewise, the competition for affordable housing is strong. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for subsidized housing and others find themselves on long waiting lists.
It was noted at the event that the Task Force, which verifies human trafficking cases in New York State, has confirmed nearly 100 victims in the Capital Region since 2007. However, cases are likely underrepresented, since many trafficking cases go unreported. When state law changed in 2015 to allow organizations outside of law enforcement to start referring cases for confirmation, the result was a more than 150% increase in referrals statewide the following year.
The tools of traffickers are their ability to recognize vulnerability and effectively use coercion. Traffickers identify individuals they can exploit and then use a variety of threats to compel their victims into service. As Unity House’s Sarah McGaughnea, Service Director in the Domestic Violence Services Program stated, “Victims end up in a trafficking situation and they don’t even know how they got there. This can happen to anybody.”
Anyone who suspects they may be a victim or a witness to human trafficking is encouraged to call the Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. Unity House has a 24 hour hotline for victims of DV and related issues: (518) 272-2370