Mayor Mike Bloomberg launched a campaign last week against human trafficking, with posters and a new website to educate the public about modern-day slavery.
“This new public education campaign will play a critical role in raising awareness of the impact of this horrible crime, encouraging New Yorkers to report it and most importantly letting victims know that help is available,” Bloomberg said. “Working together, let’s call an end to human trafficking.”
Human trafficking is described as the recruiting, transporting, selling or buying of people for the purpose of various forms of sexual or labor exploitation.
The city will display posters in the five boroughs on bus shelters through June 13. A new anti-trafficking website can be found at nyc.gov to provide more information.
Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman said human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, but that the average person doesn’t know how to recognize this form of servitude.
Although human trafficking can be difficult to recognize because it is often kept out of sight, some examples are prostitutes, domestic workers, factory workers, landscapers, restaurant workers and those working in nail salons or janitorial jobs. Victims can be American-born or immigrants.
The city says if you are a victim or want to report criminal activity, call 911. For information or to help, call 311.
Bill Livermore, executive director of the Somaly Mam Foundation and a member of the city Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, said the practice is a multi-billion-dollar criminal enterprise nationwide, involving men, women and children. “Public education is part of a comprehensive strategy to eradicate human trafficking,” Livermore said.
His nonprofit group is committed to ending slavery in North America and around the world.
Karen Siegel, a psychologist, presented a stunning display of statistics on sexual exploitation of women during a forum on sex trafficking sponsored by the Center for the Women of New York at Borough Hall in March. “Labor and sex trafficking are the second largest and fastest growing crime in the world,” Siegel said. “It soon will top drug trafficking.”
The mayor’s office utilized research available on its website from the Human Trafficking Resource Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, DC, which operates a 24-hour hotline and disseminates information to the public. The hot-line averages 800 calls a month. “Awareness is increasing and more people are reporting sex trafficking,” said Andrea Austin, a spokeswoman for the group.
The U.S. Department of State estimates 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across borders worldwide. Many taken to the United States do not speak English and are unable to communicate with people who could help them.
According to the Human Trafficking Resource Center, traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to control the victims. Force can involve rape, beatings and confinement. Fraud involves false advertising for jobs in other countries that turn out to be prostitution, and coercion involves threats to people or their loved ones, taking their passports and making them become in debt to the traffickers.
In Queens, Asian women are especially lured here with the promise of a job or a better way of life. Instead, they end up enslaved, owing their traffickers money, without documentation and kept as prostitutes in brothels, illegal massage parlors or on the street.
Human rights groups in Queens applauded the mayor’s campaign, saying that human trafficking has gone on for too long.
Susan Jung, founder of River in the Desert Advocacy Center in Flushing, said the initiative is a good beginning. “The public must be made aware of it,” Jung said. “It’s been going on for years, but is just now getting publicized.”
Her group was organized in 2002 and fights domestic violence as well as human trafficking. Jeng noted that many of the traffickers are the victims’ husbands or mothers. “We call them snake heads in Chinese,” she said, “because they are so awful.”
Jung wants to build a safe haven for victims in Flushing. “Walking down the street in Flushing, you never know who is affected by human trafficking,” she added.
Ann Jawin, founder and chairwoman of the Center for the Women of New York, was elated about the mayor’s campaign. “That’s wonderful,” Jawin said. “It comes at a good time.”
Since February, Jawin’s group has been waging its own battle against sex trafficking by asking Queens newspaper owners to pledge not to accept ads for services that are clearly a front for prostitution.
So far, only Queens Chronicle Publisher Mark Weidler has signed, earning him a Good Guys award from the CWNY on Saturday. He says the Chronicle does not run such ads and will not in the future.
Jawin is continuing to reach out to other Queens papers and if they don’t respond positively, she has vowed to get businesses and libraries to stop distributing them.