From News Day:
Local authorities are hoping a [Long Island] couple's conviction yesterday on slavery charges will make people more aware of human trafficking - a problem they say is far worse than most people suspect.
Authorities say it is likely that numerous people are brought to Long Island each year to be used as slaves, but that it is nearly impossible to know how many, especially because the victims in such cases are usually terrified of reporting their situations to the police.
"Often, the victims don't speak the language, they are living in very isolated conditions, and they are distrustful of the police," said Nassau Det. Lt. Andrew Fal, who is a member of the Long Island Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes representatives from Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York State and the U.S. attorney's office. "They fear that if they complain, they will be arrested or deported themselves."
Awareness of human trafficking has skyrocketed in the past several years, since Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000, according to Andrea Bertone, director of HumanTrafficking.org, a Web site funded by the U.S. Department of State.
Since then, many states, including New York just this spring, have passed their own human trafficking laws, making it easier for state and local prosecutors to bring traffickers to justice. The federal government is also funding 42 task forces on trafficking, including the one on Long Island.
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Sidebar: Human Trafficking in Long Island
From the New York Times:
But more than a year after the Long Island Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force was organized, not one trafficker operating on Long Island has been arrested, and just one victim, a Chinese woman forced to work in a Wantagh brothel that was disguised as a massage parlor, has been freed from traffickers. Officials of the task force offered a variety of explanations for what they acknowledged were scant results on Long Island.
Trafficking investigations are complex and time-consuming, they said, and they depend on testimony from victims who are terrified of the police. That the New York criminal code includes no statute specifically aimed at human trafficking further complicates their efforts, they said (UPDATE: New York has since passed a human trafficking law in June of 2007). So the task force has spent the last year training police officers, sharing intelligence and fine-tuning mechanisms for amassing evidence, the officials said.
"I do expect that there are big cases coming soon," said Demetri M. Jones, an assistant United States attorney and the chairwoman of the task force. In addition to the Justice Department, the task force includes three other federal agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Homeland Security Department, and the Labor Department — and the State Department of Labor, the Nassau and Suffolk police departments and district attorney's offices, and two private organizations, Safe Horizon and Catholic Charities.
Each of the county police departments got $360,000 from the federal government last year for training. Catholic Charities, which helps victims gain legal residency and find jobs and housing, and Safe Horizon, a New York City-based national organization that trains nongovernmental agencies to assist victims, received grants totaling about $400,000 for their efforts. Just how big is the problem they are trying to combat? Florrie Burke, a senior director at Safe Horizon, responded to the question with a deep sigh. "We don't know for sure," she said. "And that's true anywhere."
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