Sex and Labor Trafficking in New York City

YWCA 2 (2)

By: Karolina Heleno, NYWF Communications Intern

On Thursday, the YWCA of Queens hosted a discussion on the issue of Sex and Labor Trafficking in New York City. The panel included Rita Abadi, Clinician and Operations Manager, Mount Sinai Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention; Mary Caparas, Project Free (Anti-Human Trafficking Project) Manager, New York Asian Women’s Center; and Jimmy Lee, the Executive Director at Restore NYC.

Sex Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transporting, provision or obtaining of a minor for sexual purposes or profit with the use of coercion, force or threats[1]. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that as many as 27 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. However, the panelists all work to fight this problem in a community in our very city, Queens, New York. The panelists highlighted that Queens is the epicenter for trafficking on the East Coast due to its large population of immigrants. With immigrants comes the vulnerability of not having family, not knowing the language, and trying to find a job. All of these factors easily lead many victims into the hands of exploiters.

It is clear that this issue has to be addressed, but Sex and Labor trafficking is a very complex matter. One solution that was continually emphasized was economic empowerment. Panelist Jimmy Lee spoke about the critical importance of finding the victims support, not only emotional, mental and physical support, but providing victims with financial support and the ability to be economically self-sufficient.

In July 2012, The New York Women’s Foundation launched a five-year Initiative Against Sex Trafficking of Minors with a focus on prevention and early intervention, supporting strategies so that children who are at risk or are already being trafficked are identified and referred to holistic services. In 2007, research from the New York State Office for Children and Family Services estimated about 2,562 individuals are involved in sex trafficking. Just two years later the Center for Court Innovation and John Jay College of Criminal Justice reported 3,769 to 3,946 minors involved in sex trafficking. But those numbers are estimated to be much higher because of how difficult it is to identify a victim.

Sex trafficking is the result of systemic poverty, violence, abuse, and neglect, that the most marginalized communities in the US face. Girls, particularly girls of color, are particularly vulnerable to these conditions. About 70-80% of girls, reported to have traded sex for money, food, shelter or drugs. The victims of sex trafficking are particularly vulnerable because of the limited opportunities and options they have in life. Our five-year initiative engages a wide-range of stakeholders working on the issue in an effort to improve services, change policy, convene a cross-sector collaborative of stakeholders, and mobilize the general public to create awareness of sexual exploitation and trafficking of minors. We consider sex trafficking a violation of human rights. We know that sex trafficking of minors erodes the very fabric of communities and limits opportunities for our children to live full and vibrant lives.

With the help of our grantee partners listed below, we will continue our prevention and early intervention efforts in our Initiative Against the Sex Trafficking of Minors.

Center for Anti-Violence Education

Center for Court Innovation

City Bar Justice Center/ Association of the Bar of the City of New York Fund

Covenant House

Day One New York

The Door- A Center of Alternatives

Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS)

Resilience Advocacy Project

[1] Hines, Elizabeth G., Hochman, Joan. Sex Trafficking of Minors in New York: Increasing Prevention and Collective Action. New York: The New York Women’s Foundation, 2012. http://oldnywf.gbtesting.us/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NYWF_Sex-Trafficking-of-Minors1.pdf

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