INTRO: On Nov. 1, 2007 New York enacted the most comprehensive human trafficking law in the country, one that makes it easier for prosecutors to convict those who engage in illegal trafficking and provides services to victims who previously fell through the cracks of the criminal justice system. Part of the process in implementing the new law has been training law enforcement to think a little differently – to view what at first glance appears to be a garden variety prostitution or undocumented worker case in a different light.

SPAWN: We’re talking with Andra Ackerman, director of human trafficking prevention and policy with the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Andra welcome to APB.   Andra, let’s start with the basics. What is human trafficking?

ACKERMAN: Human trafficking has accurately been aptly described as modern day slavery. There are two types of human trafficking recognized by New York Law: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The law also removed legal ambiguities to ensure that prosecutors can bring charges against purveyors of so-called “prostitution tourism.”

SPAWN: What is sex trafficking?

ACKERMAN: Sex trafficking is when someone advances or profits from the prostitution of another by utilizing certain methods.

SPAWN: What are these methods?

ACKERMAN: Well, the use of force, making threats, withholding the victim’s identification documents, making someone pay off a debt, either real or purported, by engaging in prostitution, providing the victim with drugs or using trickery to get the victim into, or hold the victim, in prostitution. These are some of the many methods recognized under our law.

SPAWN:This sounds like pimping, how is it different?

ACKERMAN: In reality Mark, there is little difference. In most cases of promoting prostitution, the pimp does uses one or more of these methods.

SPAWN: Where are the victims of sex trafficking usually found?

ACKERMAN Sex trafficking victims are usually performing prostitution in locations that try to appear legitimate.  Often times, locations are marketed as “massage parlors,” “health spas,” “acupressure centers” or similar names. Brothels, escort services and strip clubs also are often destinations of sex trafficking victims.  Additionally, perpetrators often bring the victim to an agreed upon locations, such as a hotel or even someone’s home.

SPAWN: There is a “massage parlor” in a strip mall in my town.  How can I tell if it is a sex trafficking location?

ACKERMAN: There are several indicators that are common to sex trafficking locations: things like darkened or obscured windows so you can’t see into the location from the outside; or for example locked doors that require you to be buzzed in; and an all-male clientele, these are indicators of trafficking. In trafficking locations, the victims often arrive and leave from the premises together or live at the location.  Many times, the victims at the location will all be of the same nationality or ethnic group.
SPAWN: What will happen to the victims?

ACKERMAN: Under New York’s Human Trafficking Law, victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking are entitled to social services.

SPAWN: Doesn’t this reward illegal behavior?

ACKERMAN: Absolutely not. It’s important to remember that human trafficking victims, they’re in that situation because they have been subjected to force, threats, coercive methods or fraud. They did not have a real opportunity to avoid their circumstances, or leave them.
Also, experience shows that human trafficking victims are reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement officials because of shame or from fear that they or their families will be harmed by the traffickers. The services provided are necessary to help the victims heal, to make them safe and give them confidence to testify against their traffickers. Without cooperation from the victims, it is extremely difficult to obtain human trafficking convictions. Providing services to human trafficking victims is as much for the benefit of the police, prosecutors and general public as it is for the victims.

SPAWN: What will happen to the traffickers?

ACKERMAN: New York is tough on traffickers and its law is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. If convicted, sex traffickers face up to 25 years imprisonment and labor traffickers face up to seven years in prison.

SPAWN: What is labor trafficking?

ACKERMAN: Labor trafficking is enticing, coercing, harboring or transporting someone to perform some sort of labor or service, again, by utilizing certain prohibited methods.

SPAWN: What are those prohibited methods?

ACKERMAN: The prohibited methods of labor trafficking are similar to those of sex trafficking: obtaining someone’s labor by force, threat, coercion or withholding government issued identification documents are among the methods that constitute labor trafficking in New York.

SPAWN: Where are labor trafficking victims usually found?

ACKERMAN: Labor trafficking victims can be found in a wide range of otherwise legitimate jobs and services, including restaurants, hotels, construction, cleaning and maintenance, and domestic and agricultural employment.

SPAWN: Andra, have there been any prosecutions under this new law?

ACKERMAN:  Yes, the most recent conviction was in Queens County.  The defendant was convicted of sex trafficking for forcing a young girl into prostitution and threatening to kill her and harm her family if she did not perform the acts.  He was sentenced to the maximum and for this charge alone faces up to 25 years in prison.

SPAWN: Can you speak to the interplay between state and federal anti trafficking laws?

ACKERMAN:  It is imperative that federal and local agencies work together on every case within their jurisdiction as long as there is a nexus to interstate commerce that allows federal law enforcement the ability to bring forth charges.  At some point during the investigation, usually a decision is made as to which agency will be the primary agency that will be prosecuting the defendant. 

SPAWN: Andra, you have spent much of the past two years traveling around the state, training police officers and prosecutors. What do law enforcement officials need to know about this law?

ACKERMAN: There is so much information that law enforcement needs to understand to be successful at investigating trafficking cases.  First and foremost is identifying the crime.  Remember, much of this crime is masked as prostitution or as mere immigration violations.  Once identification has been accomplished, there is much to learn with respect to building a strong case from the ground up to ensure that the victim’s testimony is corroborated in every way we can and  knowing where to go to provide the victim with the support he or she needs to survive through this process.

SPAWN: What can the public do to prevent trafficking?

ACKERMAN: Do not patronize establishments that provide sexual activity for money.  Persuade their town, village or city to pass a tough local law prohibiting the operation of massage parlors, unless it is staffed exclusively by New York State licensed massage therapists.  Urge their police department and district attorney to cut off the demand for sex trafficking victims by strictly enforcing New York laws against patronizing prostitutes.

NARRATION/SUMMARY: You can check the elements of each of these crimes we’ve discussed today by checking Penal Law Sections 230.34, and 135.35. Definitions of trafficking under New York law are broader than the federal law. Remember, sex trafficking victims are often found in massage parlors, brothels, strip clubs, escort services, street walking and through web sites dedicated to patronizing prostitution. Labor trafficking victims are often found in agricultural work, restaurant work, sweatshops and in domestic labor. Close and early collaboration between law enforcement and providers of assistance to human trafficking victims greatly increases the likelihood of victim cooperation and convictions of defendants. Social Services Law  requires police and DA's to provide U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services form I-914 Supplement B at the request of a trafficking victim or their representative. For a summary of these tips, the penal law sections, and links to the Citizenship forms go to and click on the Resources tab.