February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 23°F


Commentary: NY state has room to improve anti-trafficking policy

Today, there are 27 million slaves in the world, according to Free the Slaves, a leading abolitionist organization fighting international human trafficking. This is a staggering statistic considering the anti-slavery laws present in every country.

Jessica Leuchtenburg

When I first learned about today’s human trafficking — the current term for slavery — I found it easy to dismiss the reality of its presence in our own backyards. About 14,000 slaves are trafficked into the U.S. each year, and there are high estimates of domestic trafficking of American citizens as well, especially runaway children.

Despite the abolition of slavery nearly 200 years ago, many states today fall below the standards necessary to maintain freedom for all of their residents. The Polaris Project, an abolitionist organization specializing in U.S. sex trafficking, produces an annual report that rates each state based on “10 categories of state statutes that Polaris Project believes are critical to a comprehensive anti-trafficking legal framework.”

This year, New York state received eight out of 12 points in the ranking. This rating is indicative of the state’s attention to this issue. New York pioneered the Safe Harbor Act, which protects sex-trafficked minors. The law states that any minor involved in prostitution should not be convicted, but diverted to child protection services or victim service programs. This is a huge improvement from the 2004 case when a 12-year-old girl was convicted for prostitution in New York, despite physical evidence of severe abuse.

The state now has a statute that expunges prostitution convictions from the records of sex trafficking victims. Lobbying efforts from Rachel Lloyd, the founder of Girls Educational Mentoring Services, a non-profit organization that fights domestic minor sex trafficking, helped establish these laws.

While New York maintains one of the higher ratings, there is still room for improvement. The state makes little effort to publicly post the human trafficking hotline number, which makes it difficult for citizens to report incidents. It also doesn’t include human trafficking in asset forfeiture laws, which allow police to confiscate items purchased with earnings from prostitution.

Most importantly, for laws to be effective they must be funded and enforced. New York’s high rating only reflects the laws in place, not the effectiveness in the application of these laws. Many of these laws provide training and services if funding is available, but they don’t require the state to provide the funding. This leaves nonprofits that already have tight budgets to continuously fundraise or dole out funds they don’t have in an effort to fill the gaps.

From left, senior Michele Fortier and Molly Wernick ’11 attend a Free the Slaves meeting February 2009. The group works to stop human trafficking.

Despite this upset, the public can take concrete actions to make a difference. Citizens can write to their legislators and encourage them to support new anti-human trafficking laws. Students can attend an Ithaca College Free the Slaves meeting to learn more about slavery and how to help end it. Supporters can donate to Free the Slaves, Polaris Project or GEMS to help them continue their anti-trafficking work.

The public should continue to learn more about human trafficking by educating themselves and spreading the word. Human trafficking is a reality, but if we can become aware of this issue as a society, we can work to finally abolish it.

The next meeting for the college’s Free the Slaves chapter will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday on the third floor of Friends Hall. If anyone witnesses a potential act of human trafficking, call the national hotline at (888)-373-7888.

Jessica Leuchtenburg is a senior athletic training major. Email her at jleucht1@ithaca.edu