The Erie County Department of Social Services has partnered with the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB) through a New York State Office of Children and Family Services initiative called the Safe Harbor Plan. The initiative is designed to build a localized response to child trafficking under the state-wide “Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act” that was passed by the NYS Legislature in 2008 to redirect exploited children from the criminal or juvenile justice systems to the family courts. Once there, the children and their families can receive support and services from the child welfare system.
In addition, as part of the plan, services are provided to victims of sex trafficking. Such items include case management, emergency temporary housing, health care, mental health counseling, language interpretation and translation services, job training, and services to assist in establishing a permanent residence. Erie County is one of five counties in NYS to receive funding for related services and was awarded a grant of $124,444 to use toward identified service components.
Elements of the grant include enhancing community awareness, training and identification, housing, case management and advocacy. A campaign across Erie County is promoting public awareness of sexual exploitation and human trafficking, with information posted on billboards, buses, subways and bus shelters. ECDSS is working collaboratively with IIB as well as the International Office For Adolescents (IOFA) to conduct training for staff and external partners in Erie County. The IIB has created a brief training video to be utilized by all new DSS caseworkers as part of employment Orientation. Human trafficking is described as a form of modern slavery in which perpetrators profit monetarily through the exploitation of others.
Victims of human trafficking include individuals who are male or female, U.S. citizens or foreign born, and victimized through labor or sexual exploitation. Any individual under the age of 18 whose story reveals one or more of the following indicators may be a trafficked minor and therefore will benefit from a thorough screening:
- Having no access to identification documents.
- Being involved in an abusive relationship with an older partner Having no cohesive story of the whereabouts of their parents or guardians.
- Being a runaway.
- Displaying signs of trauma.
- Not knowing the address of where they live or work Lacking detail regarding their immigration to the U.S.
The recruiting or moving stage typically starts the human trafficking process, followed by the captivity stage in which a victim encounters force, fraud or coercion. The “end” portion of the process includes the victim being monetarily exploited through means of involuntary servitude, debt bondage or sex trade.
Places of human trafficking of minors can include:
- Commercial Sex Industry.
- Factories Hotels/Motels Bars and Cantinas.
- Private Properties.
- On the Streets, through peddling or prostitution.
For more information regarding the issue of human trafficking of minors, or to report a case of possible exploitation, call the International Institute of Buffalo’s Trafficking Victim Services at (716) 883-1900, extension 323.