Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Bill would extend human trafficking task force

A new bill could help the state achieve more convictions for human trafficking.

The bill (A.6800/S.4089), sponsored by Assemblywoman Grace Meng, D-Flushing, and Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, would extend the Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking until Sept. 1, 2013.The task force is set to expire in September 2011.

The task force is co-chaired by the Division of Criminal Justice Services and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. It was created in 2007 under legislation signed into law by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to establish harsher penalties for human traffickers and provide assistance to victims of prostitution and involuntary labor.

Meng took an interest in the legislation after the first person convicted under the 2007 human trafficking laws was caught in Queens. According to Meng, who represents a district in Queens, the borough is an area of concern for the crime.

"It's known to be one of the problem areas for human trafficking. I guess mostly because it's also … the hub of … two major airports in New York," said Meng.

The goals of the task force are to recommend best practices for training and outreach to law enforcement and service providers regarding the crime, gather data on victims and the effectiveness of the 2007 law and raise public awareness about human trafficking.

Supporters of the legislation say the extension of the task force for two more years could help the state find and convict more people who are guilty of trafficking people into the country.

The U.S. State Department recently reported approximately 20,000 people are trafficked into the country through New York state each year. Only Texas, California and Florida have higher occurrences of human trafficking than New York.

Meng attributes this number to the high immigrant population in New York City and how easy it is to find employment for human trafficking victims who are mostly women.

The bill passed the Assembly on April 12, coinciding with the New York State Crime Victims' Rights Week. According to the assemblywoman, human trafficking is a crime not often discussed because the victims are hard to locate. The legislation was advanced to a third reading in the Senate on March 31.

"Human trafficking is a topic that's sort of viewed as domestic violence was, let's say, 30 years ago. There's not much known about it. It's really hard to find victims and, obviously, even harder to find the perpetrators. Built on top of that is the language component. Often times we're dealing with people from various countries and immigration issues."

In addition to extending the task force, Meng suggests collaborating with community-based organizations that provide help to victims as a way to combat human trafficking in the state.

"I just think that it's really important that New York state continues to look into this, and it's really important that we continue to partner with a lot of community organizations because often times they're the kind who are able to provide assistance to victims … first hand, and they'll be able to help the government tackle these problems and prosecute the perpetrators," said Meng.

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