Human trafficking sounds like a terrifying crime and few Central New Yorkers are aware that it’s happening in this area. The League of Women Voters hosted a panel discussion Tuesday night in Syracuse to try to raise awareness.
Onondaga County already has laws protecting victims of sex labor and trafficking. Vera House advocate Monira Alozaime, explains that while few victims seek legal action, those victims are treated with respect.
“Many victims choose not to prosecute or take the legal route,” said Alozaime. “But when they do they do they have that support out there, and locally what they are doing when they get these cases is looking at it from a victim services approach.”
Syracuse recently expanded protection for those forced into an illegal trade by creating a human trafficking court where victims can receive services to help them recover.
While traditional sex trafficking consists of foreign victims being smuggled into the area for the sex trade, local officials are now using sex trafficking laws to help women and minors being exploited by pimps as prostitutes. Alozaime says this measure helps victims who might have taken part in illegal activity can get help.
“Locally, we have a human trafficking court and that’s also an option for victims,” said Alozaime. “Instead of charging them as a criminal they have the option to go in front of Judge Leper, and what they do is offer them victims services.”
She says still, many victims don’t come forward for fear of being prosecuted – or fear of reprisals by the people who forced them into the situation. Alozaime recalls local victims who were forced into prostitution, as well as child pornography. Many times those victims are young women.
Vera House, state police and other law enforcement hope to strengthen laws to go after those that force people into these illegal activities. They also hope to raise awareness so that people might see warning signs and help victims.