By Emily Clute
Students Stopping Trafficking of People (SSTOP) and the New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking held a panel discussion last Thursday on human trafficking in the Capital District as a part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Nora Cronin from the NYS Office of Temporary & Disability Assistance, CJ Boykin from the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, Sarah McGaughnea from the Unity House of Troy, and Mary Armistead from The Legal Project work together throughout the Capital Region to support those who have become victims of human trafficking.
Education and awareness were the main themes of the panel; both for law enforcement and the general public.
“A victim of human trafficking has to meet three elements; they have to have been recruited or otherwise obtained through force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of either involuntary servitude or commercial sex acts,” Mary Armistead explained during Thursday’s panel.
However, most trafficking victims don’t look like what one might expect.
“One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in my work is that law enforcement or other people don’t understand what trafficking looks like because our media portrays it like people who are being held in a basement against their will,” explains Armistead. “It can include that, but it can include a lot of other things.”
When it comes to the Capital District, victims of trafficking face unique challenges. Limited public transportation to services, lack of affordable housing, and food insecurity all hinder victims’ abilities to leave their circumstances for a fresh start. The number of people coming to the area for economic opportunities also makes the area vulnerable to trafficking.
Undocumented victims may face even more resistance on the road from victim to survivor; a lack of documentation makes them ineligible for many services offered to victims and are often less likely to step forward and request help in fear of being deported. With a lack of support, language barriers and a lack of ties to their home country, undocumented victims are some of the most vulnerable.
“There’s not a lot of other trafficking services,” McGaughnea explains. ”In the Capital Region, we don’t have a huge amount, but we work together.”
One of the greatest takeaways from the discussion was the idea of who can be a reporter of suspicious activity.
“A lot of labor trafficking victims are identified by folks who have what we call ‘incidental contact’ with victims,” says Nora Cronin. “This could be you making a delivery to the house, or working as a telephone repair person, or a carpenter, or delivering a pizza...You may be that person who makes the report.”
When it comes to suspected activity, the panel urges you to make a report, even if you aren’t certain.
“There’s no penalty whatsoever for us deciding that your referral shouldn’t be accepted as confirmable,” says CJ Boykin.
“SSTOP works to raise awareness on what human trafficking is,” says graduate student Gabriella Bartley who is President of SSTOP.
Since their creation in the spring of 2017, the group has worked to hold fundraising events for local organizations that assist those affected by human trafficking, hosted community awareness events, and worked alongside an NYS Assemblywoman to draft a petition on New York State marriage age laws.
“The goal is to raise awareness on campus and in the community about what human trafficking is,” Bartley said.
The event also featured Fair Trade certified products—products that are produced in safe working conditions, for livable wages, without negative effects on the environment. One of SSTOP’s goals is to help UAlbany move towards being a Fair Trade campus to take a stand against labor trafficking that may befall farmworkers.
To make a report of suspected human trafficking, there are options for all situations. Suspicious activity can be reported over the phone, email, or text messages. To learn more about how to report suspicious activity and signs of human trafficking, visit the Human Trafficking Hotline at www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
For more information on SSTOP and the human trafficking epidemic, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.