John Caher (DCJS) @ (518) 457-8415,or cell @ (518) 225-5240
Lt. Nathan Achtziger, North Tonawanda Police Department @ (716) 692-4119 or cell @ (716) 536-3641
For immediate release: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
State, local authorities combat “modern day slavery”
Law enforcement, service providers come together in North Tonawanda
Sex and labor trafficking – modern remnants of slavery – were the focus of a special training session today during which law enforcement authorities and service providers explored ways to prosecute perpetrators and assist victims.
The training in North Tonawanda, co-sponsored by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), was designed to provide authorities with the skills needed to identify, investigate and prosecute cases in which women, men and children are forced to engage in prostitution or illegal labor. It builds upon an introductory course offered throughout the state last year.
Denise E. O’Donnell, Governor Paterson’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety, said a law enacted in November 2007 provides authorities with unprecedented and unparalleled power to effectively combat human trafficking. However, she said effective use of the human trafficking law requires police to view what at first glance may appear to be a garden variety prostitution or undocumented worker case in a much different light.
“Victims of human trafficking are often as - or even more - afraid of law enforcement as they are of their abuser, which of course just perpetuates their abuse,” Deputy Secretary O’Donnell said.
Deputy Secretary O’Donnell said purveyors of human trafficking gain control of their victims by forcing them to commit crimes, such as prostitution or illegal labor. She said victims are often afraid to come forward for fear of being prosecuted or deported.
“The new law shields the victims and ensures that they will not be prosecuted for reporting their victimization,” Deputy Secretary O’Donnell said. “We are training law enforcement to recognize cases of human trafficking, to appreciate the fact that what may seem a routine prostitution or illegal worker case could be something far more insidious and far more sinister.”
Commissioner David A. Hansell of OTDA said a key component of New York’s anti-trafficking law – widely considered the strongest in the nation – is the provision of basic services so that the victims can rebuild their lives and become independent of their abuser.
“It is important that community organizations are aware of the full array of services available so they can reassure victims they are safe and get them the protection and support needed to rebuild their lives,” Commissioner Hansell said. “Providing assistance that is as seamless and stress-free as possible will help put victims on a path to self-reliance and, ultimately, freedom.”
More than 30 law enforcement and victims’ services professionals attended today’s training at Sweeney Hose Company in North Tonawanda – one of a dozen sponsored by DCJS and OTDA over the past few months. Approximately 800 professionals have attended the trainings.
The half-day training explored a variety of topics, such as: identifying sex and labor trafficking and sex tourism; successful investigation techniques; the benefits of multi-jurisdictional investigations; and the state and federal process of certifying victims for services.
Andra Ackerman, director of human trafficking prevention and policy at DCJS, and Christa Stewart, coordinator of human trafficking programming and supervisor of the Newcomer Transition Unit at OTDA, conducted the training.
A seasoned sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor, Ackerman worked for district attorneys’ offices in Rensselaer, Albany and Schenectady counties before joining DCJS in September 2008. She is a graduate of the State University at Buffalo’s School of Law, Siena College and Hudson Valley Community College.
Stewart is an experienced immigration and human rights attorney, who served as director of legal services at The Door, a youth development agency in New York City, and co-founded and directed Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative before joining OTDA. She is a graduate of Binghamton University and Brooklyn Law School.
North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy Szukala, whose agency hosted the event, said it is crucial for all law enforcement authorities to full understand the applications and implications of the human trafficking law.
“As a community just minutes away from a foreign border, we are especially conscious of the plight of victims who come into our area – sometimes illegally – from Canada,” Chief Szukala said. “Often, these people made an arduous journey from overseas, worked their way through Canada and came to this country in search of the American Dream, only to find themselves victims of slavery. We have no tolerance for the individuals who exploit these people, and the 2007 law gives us the tools we need to bring them to justice.”
Added Niagara County Sheriff James R. Voutour: “Successful investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases requires a unique relationship between law enforcement and victims who, technically, are committing a crime. The law gives us the ability to build that bridge and encourage victims to come forward and cooperate. I am very appreciative of the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance for bringing this training to Niagara County. Together with our partners in law enforcement and in the service community, I am confident that, with this new law, we can take enormous strides in the battle against human trafficking.”
Sex trafficking can occur anywhere – from massage parlors to hotel rooms to private residences – and can be promoted in advertisements in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet. Men and women who work as domestic help, in restaurants, factories and on farms can fall victim to labor trafficking. Human trafficking victims can be foreign-born, citizens or legal residents of the United States.
In addition to the training session, OTDA today recognized the efforts of the International Institute of Buffalo, which is designated as the NYS Response to Human Trafficking Provider in the Western district.
“This landmark legislation not only provides stiff penalties to those who perpetrate this horrible crime but provides assistance to those who were victimized to help them regain their lives,” Commissioner Hansell said. “The International Institute of Buffalo has emerged as a model to other agencies and communities in this regard and has been instrumental in the success of the new legislation. On behalf of Governor Paterson and OTDA, and all those who have been and will be served by their efforts, I thank them.”
Amy Fleischauer, Director of Victim Services at the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB), has coordinated efforts to serve nearly thirty victims of human trafficking identified in Western New York since the implementation of the 2007 legislation.
“We are grateful to Governor Paterson, Commissioner Hansell, OTDA and DCJS for this acknowledgement as well as their consistent dedication to serve and support victims of human trafficking - a population that remains under-identified in New York State, Fleischauer said. “IIB’s success in both identifying and serving victims is due to the combined efforts of our state, local and federal law enforcement partners, as well as the many social service agencies that collaborate to provide comprehensive, culturally-competent services to ensure victim safety and self-determination. We remain excited and committed to continue our relationship with agencies across New York State, with the goal of increasing the number of identified victims in both forced labor and sex industries as well as assisting in the prosecution of their traffickers.”
The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services is a multi-function criminal justice support agency with a variety of responsibilities, including collection and analysis of statewide crime data; operation of the DNA databank and criminal fingerprint files; administration of federal and state criminal justice funds; support of criminal justice-related agencies across the state; and administration of the state’s Sex Offender Registry and a toll-free telephone number (1-800-262-3257) that allows anyone to research the status of an offender.
The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) oversees a range of the state’s most important programs for its low-income residents, with a focus on employment wherever possible, and to provide leadership, guidance and support to local departments of social services in the administration of these programs. The agency’s primary mission includes enhancing the economic security of low-income working families; assisting work-capable public assistance recipients in achieving entry into the workforce; assisting individuals with priority needs other than work-readiness in accessing appropriate benefits and services; and enhancing child well-being and reducing child poverty.