Experts who handle youth human trafficking cases in Onondaga County say that the illegal activity continues to be on the rise, and that the opioid epidemic seems to be fueling the problem.
The Homeland Security roundtable discussion at the McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center shared the disturbing local trends of trafficking and drugs. Congressmember John Katko was surprised to learn of the correlation.
"Some of the things we've learned from today were frightening. Number one: much stronger connection to human trafficking and the rise in the opioid epidemic and the interplay between individuals that are getting addicted to opioids and then get forced into child exploitation or human trafficking. Then the transportation components of it, bringing them from one city to another once they're addicted."
Providing youth victims with appropriate shelters and some oversight is something that Vera House strives to do as a shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Vera House's Randi Bregman feels providing more shelter for victims of human trafficking will lead to better outcomes.
"That balance between creating a trauma informed nurturing approach where you acknowledge people's trauma and you support them by having some kind of structure so that you know when they're out some of those nights are they actually being trafficked again. So, what models are already working because I think that might help inform our community."
Director of Advocacy at McMahon Ryan Erin Yeager says they dealt with nearly 80 new trafficking cases last year and she suggests parents pay close attention to their children.
"Knowing what they're doing online, being aware of who their friends are, where they are, and where they're going those are are all really important things and I think that sounds mundane to point that out, but in today's society it's still really important to do those things."
Experts are asking for more resources to combat the problem. Congressmember Katko says there has already been about $4 billion dollars allocated to fight the opioid problem in 2018.
“Some of it is just a matter of maybe moving some money around and some of them may be trying to get more funding sources in the future. That’s something we got to go back and take a look at. Some of the basic things, tools of the trades like forensic examiners are people that are individuals that are highly specialized in dealing with abused teens and trafficked teens, and helping them get to the bad guys and the organizations that are doing this. That type of stuff, if they’re isn’t funding for it already, we should try and find the funding for it.”
In the future, local law enforcement and experts could be heading to Washington to share their knowledge with federal lawmakers about the human trafficking and opioid issue in Central New York.