In late April we were given the opportunity to attend a forum on the Dynamics of Human Trafficking in New York City, hosted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and sponsored by the New York Asian Women’s Center, John Jay College Office of Graduate Studies and Urban Male Initiative. Several agencies participated to provide the audience with information about challenges in combating human trafficking from different perspectives in the field. Those agencies included Safe Horizons, the New York District Attorney’s Office, and the Asian American Legal Defence and Education Fund.
After a moment of silence for the victims of trafficking, the forum began with a narrative written by a survivor of human trafficking, which demonstrated how real this issue is in the United States. The first speaker on the panel, David Chong, Commissioner of Public Safety of White Plains was an undercover officer who infiltrated a gang in New York, the Flying Dragons, over 30 years ago. At the time, law enforcement knew the gangs were committing crimes by recruit these girls, forcing them to repay debts through sexual services and labor, brutally punishing them when they disobeyed, and trading them constantly for “new meat.” However, at the time, this was not yet labeled as human trafficking.
According to Detective Chong, the practice of trafficking human beings has been around for years, but law enforcement, prosecutors and practitioners did not know what it was nor did they know how to prosecute it. So instead of charging the gang with trafficking, officers and prosecutors charged them for other gang-related crimes they had committed.
John Temple, Attorney in Charge of the Human Trafficking Program for the Special Victims Bureau of the New York District Attorney’s Office, briefed the audience on a human trafficking case in order to review laws against human trafficking. The story he told was about a young girl who was sold by her family and smuggled into the U.S. to be put to work. When she arrived she was told she had a $90,000 debt to repay. Whether she was brought into the U.S. willingly, or not, this was the point where smuggling became debt bondage, a form of human trafficking. She was in a new place, knew no one, and did not speak the language. This girl was placed in a brothel by her trafficker and forced to prostitute herself.
A law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in 2000, and covers several different key components to label different crimes as being “human trafficking crimes”. Debt bondage, fraud, physical harm, seizure of documents, and coercion are a few examples of what make up the crime of human trafficking under the TVPA.
The TVPA acknowledges the vulnerability of foreign-born people and the issues associated with immigration, by providing applications for temporary visas, or T-Visas, given to victims of trafficking. T-visas are provided to victims of human trafficking if the victim can prove force, fraud, or coercion, unless that victim is under the age of 18. U-visas are provided to noncitizens victims of crime, not only for victims of trafficking.
Ivy Suriyopas from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund explained the importance of civil remedies to these survivors. Civil remedies allow for lawsuits against traffickers in order to gain claims for damages to the victim; there are only 15 states that allow civil remedies for trafficked victims, and the state of New York is not one of them. While the T-visa may help victims of trafficking receive benefits and a chance to apply for citizenship, it may not cover all their expenses before they are able to obtain a visa and find work.
Although New York has their own state laws against human trafficking, we heard from various organizations about how necessary it is for the state to establish stricter regulations on trafficking, especially more severe sentencing of traffickers and better systems for victim aftercare.
One of the many challenges of human trafficking is that victims of human trafficking rarely come forward and self-identify themselves as victims. Additionally, trafficking is not always easily identified, and individuals are often confused as to the true definition of the crime. Another problem faced by individuals in the field is that many foreign-born victims do not know that they are entitled to protection, nor do they know what options they have for the future if they were to seek help.
Haemy Lee from the New York Asian Women’s Center and Deanna Croce from Safe Horizon ended the panel by describing who these victims might be, what issues they face when coming forward, and what their needs are once they identify themselves as victims. These trafficking cases are not typical crimes. Each case is unique and can differ based on the victim, trafficker, and method used to traffic, but organizations such as Safe Horizon and the Asian Women’s Center want to assure these victims that there are services available for them within agencies and organizations that are mindful of the psychological trauma victims suffer and the fear they most likely feel.
These practical services of safety, emotional stability, and other supportive measures are crucial to the survivors. The partnerships between victims, law enforcement, service providers and policy makers are key to preventing and prosecuting cases of trafficking while supporting the victims.
Location: Terre Haute, Indiana
Written by: Mona