Watching Out for “Invisible” Victims

Forcing young women and men into a life of prostitution is a very lucrative business that is alive and well in Central New York. But a movement to end it in New York State is gathering momentum, with a bill in the legislature to protect those who are trafficked, and bring traffickers to justice.

Elisa Morales is the Syracuse Spanish Action League staffer who works with many of the victims of human trafficking who find themselves in Central New York. She meets with them in local malls, college campuses, and parks. “You know I have to tell you, the invisible people, they walk amongst us.”

The Spanish Action League, on Syracuse’s Near West Side, focuses on counseling, advocacy and education for the city’s growing Latino Commmunity.  They started noticing, about three years ago, an influx of women controlled by traffickers, looking for help. Executive Director Rita Panaigua says some victims of human trafficking often don’t know what city they are in, much less what country, as they are ferried across the world in the dark of night….being sold outright, or being used to satisfy family debts. These women need a broad range of services, from legal help to mental health counseling.

That’s why the Spanish Action League has signed on to support the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. Emily Amick, the legislative coordinator of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, says there’s optimism on this front in Albany. “The TVPJA, which is being sponsored by Assemblywoman Paulin and Senator Lanza, is currently in the Codes Committee and we are excited we are building more support in the legislature and more people are coming on as co-sponsors.” The TVPJA would stiffen charges against traffickers. Right now if they’re caught, traffickers face misdemeanor charges.

Learn more at Ellen Abbott’s North Country Public Radio article: Fighting sex trafficking in New York State.

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