Even as Arrests Increase, Human Trafficking Remains A Problem

Areas in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan remain hubs for human trafficking even as the number of related arrests increase, according to law enforcement officials. The number of arrests in sex trafficking cases in New York City increased more than five times to 50 in 2011, up from 9 in 2008. Still, the data also suggests many trafficking victims remain out of reach.

Jackson Heights and Flushing, Queens, Koreatown in Manhattan and Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, remain active hubs where victims – mostly women and young girls between the ages of 10 and 30 -- are being trafficked, according to Tenaz Dubash, Victim Assistance Coordinator with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In New York State, there have been a total of 96 arrests for sex and labor trafficking and 31 convictions since 2007 when the anti-trafficking law came into effect. Most arrests – 87– happened in New York City, according to ICE, the primary U.S. law enforcement agency responsible for combating human trafficking.

“We’re making dent, and we’re making progress,” said James Hayes, ICE's Special Agent in Charge of Investigations. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

Between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year, according to the Department of Justice. ICE has been reaching out to the public with information about trafficking, particularly through January, which is the Human Trafficking Awareness month.

Most trafficking victims are from impoverished backgrounds and come from Mexico, El Salvador or Guatemala, often by crossing the border illegally or from south-east Asia and Eastern Europe, using fraudulent documents.

Traffickers often entice their victims with the prospect of jobs, education or marriage in the United States.

“When they get here, they’re working 14 hours in a night club, 14 hours in a strip club, 14 hours in a massage parlor, or worse,” Hayes said.

Trafficked women forced into the sex industry makes about $25 to $30 each time she’s forced to have intercourse, which can be to about 30 to 40 times a night, Dubash said.

One of the main issues remains identification of trafficking victims, who are almost never able to identify themselves as such.

Police officers also don’t always recognize signs of trafficking, but Hayes said coordination with local law enforcement and training ICE  has provided has “increased the ability of both local, state and federal prosecutors to be able to bring charges against people.”