As I sat with victims, survivors and parent survivors of trafficking victims over the years, I realized that if New York City doesn’t get in front of the problem, we will become the problem. In New York City, the average age of trafficked youth is 11 to 15, which makes our middle- school-aged population the most vulnerable. Law enforcement experts point out that our children have become instant victims through all forms of social media and the internet, including the dark web.
Speaking to a parent advocate, I learned that a 12-year-old child was recruited by her 12-year-old classmate in the Bronx, who, in turn, introduced the child to her trafficker, her mother. Another parent advocate has to deal with the ongoing trauma caused by pimps and serial rapists who have exploited and abused her mentally challenged daughter, who was trafficked in Harlem. Or, the survivor-leader whose trauma led her to attempt suicide.
We find trafficking victims in commercial-front and residential brothels, hotels, motels and massage parlors, where immigrants fear deportation. Human trafficking is indeed in our own backyard. How do we effectively help these victims and their families in our city?
In the winter of 2017, I asked the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs to host a meeting to bring together leading human trafficking service providers and survivors to meet with leading city agencies—the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and the New York City Police Department—to discuss the current conditions of trafficking in NYC and the urgent need for a well-coordinated, multidisciplinary response to this crisis. The obvious solution was the formation of a Mayor’s Office to Combat Human Trafficking. This proposal was agreed to by 25 leading organizations in New York City.
At the meeting, one of the leading service providers said that in her 20-plus years in service focusing on domestic violence and now human trafficking, there was no question in her mind that New York City needed a dedicated office to combat human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies indicated an increase in reporting of trafficking victims. Currently, there is a paucity of accurate data in New York City about the number of trafficked victims, their gender identity, their ages, their locales and the like. That is mainly because there is no intentional concentration on human trafficking that will facilitate desperately needed research and advocacy. Our city’s inadequate response, along with the increasing number of identified victims, highlights the need for a dedicated office to combat human trafficking. Or, alternatively, the provision of sufficient resources under an existing city agency or office.
The first Office to Combat Human Trafficking working group meeting was held May 22, 2017, and from there TrafficK-Free NYC was born. Over the past year, TrafficK-Free NYC members have met monthly to develop a more accurate understanding of the scope of the problem by sharing information and best practices. We took a hard look at identifying challenges, and we all agreed—service providers, survivors and city agencies—that there exists: