Human Trafficking in Western New York
Human trafficking is not frequently addressed on Niagara University’s campus, even though it exists in many areas – including in the surrounding community.
In an attempt to raise awareness about the issue, politics and media students will hold a screening of the film “Taken” at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 9. Free pizza and pop will be provided for students who attend the showing. This will be followed by a discussion panel regarding the topic of human trafficking at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10. Both events are free and will be held in Dunleavy Hall, Room 127.
The discussion panel will consist of special agent with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement of Homeland Security, Patricia Calleri; Dr. Chris Lee, professor of political science at Niagara; and Elizabeth McIntyre, the program assistant for the victims services department of the International Institute of Buffalo.
The IIB’s Victim Services Department assists foreign born victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. McIntyre laments that “(human) trafficking is a really hidden crime; if people know about it, they know about it in the sense that, ‘oh it happens in Cambodia or young women are kidnapped off farms in China and sold in the sex trade.’ People often don’t realize that it’s in Western New York, in restaurants in downtown Buffalo, and on farms.”
Since the IIB implemented its trafficking program in the autumn of 2007, it has aided nearly 300 victims of human trafficking. “Of those, just north of 80 percent have been victims of labor trafficking” said McIntyre. The rest have been victims of sexual exploitation, she added.
Lee said “there’s a lot more attention on trafficking for sexual exploitation but some argue that the forced labor component is actually more prevalent.”
Calleri will discuss the legal aspects and enforcement of human trafficking laws. Lee will explore the subject from a human rights violation standpoint, while McIntyre will discuss the work the IIB does to re-integrate victims into society. The aim of the discussion panel is to represent a range of perspectives regarding the issue, specifically in the Western New York region.
Lee’s reason for participating on the discussion panel is to raise awareness in the community of the problems that exist regarding human trafficking and encourage people to stand against these issues.
“The priority isn’t that high; the hope is that with increased advocacy it will become more on the radar screens and people will be more encouraged to take greater steps towards protecting these people’s human rights” said Lee, adding, “There are billions of dollars made annually on trafficking … (it is) the fastest growing crime in the world, right behind drug trafficking, as far as how much it earns.”
Lee explained that more than 141 countries have signed treaties banning human trafficking. However, the practice has not been deterred. “It’s growing … with globalization and increased technology, the movement of people is easier now than ever before” he said. It is for this reason that these panelists are attempting to raise awareness of the problem in the community.
The IIB has working relationships with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI and the Erie County Sheriff’s Department for stopping human trafficking and rehabilitating victims. It rarely gets tips from citizens leading to a case. McIntyre intends to make the public more conscious of the human trafficking taking place in the area by speaking on the panel, which could potentially lead to more cases of victims being assimilated back into society.
Both Lee and McIntyre are attempting to inform people that human trafficking is a very real problem in the region, even though many are unaware of the fact.
“One of the things that make Western New York a hot spot for trafficking, in addition to the fact that it’s pretty much the last point between Canada and any city on the eastern seaboard, is that you have all the farms and you also have small cities. Like Buffalo where there’s a ... mix between agriculture and cities” said McIntyre.
While McIntyre explains why this area experiences so many human rights violations, Lee has a warning for those with misconceptions about the issue.
“There are a lot of people who think about it (human trafficking) in terms of people actually moving someplace, but it doesn’t necessarily have to happen that way. It can happen right where you live.”