Office of Children and Family Services

Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

What Child Welfare Staff Should Know

A teen in foster care runs away with her “boyfriend,” who asks her to sleep with a few of his friends, to pay rent.

Two youth are made to work long hours on a farm when they should be in school.

A mother “rents” her children to a pedophile, to support her drug addiction.

Look Beneath the SurfaceAlthough all child welfare staff will recognize these scenarios as “child welfare issues,” fewer staff will identify them as cases of “Human Trafficking.”  Human Trafficking is a serious crime that is punishable by both New York State and Federal Law.

Because many trafficking victims have abuse and neglect histories, child welfare workers may come into contact with children who have either been trafficked or who are at risk of being trafficked. For this reason, it is important that child welfare workers are prepared to identify “red flags” that indicate a child may have been trafficked, and refer these cases for services and/or to law enforcement or the local district attorney’s office, if appropriate. In addition, child welfare workers have an opportunity to educate children about how to protect themselves against traffickers, thereby potentially preventing a child from being victimized.

Child welfare staff have a vital role in helping to identify potential Child Trafficking victims!

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Human Trafficking:

Public Service Announcement

Human Trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery.  There are 3 elements of Human Trafficking, which are outlined in the chart below: Source: Freedom Network Training Institute

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Human Trafficking: Types
There are 2 major types of Human Trafficking:

  • Sex Trafficking -- NYS Definition:
    • Profiting from prostitution by providing drugs, using false or misleading statements, withholding or destroying government documents, debt servicing, force, a plan or pattern of coercive conduct, or other acts.
      Please note: Under the Federal definition of sex trafficking, victims under age 18 are automatically victims regardless of whether or not force, fraud or coercion is present.
  • Labor Trafficking -- NYS Definition:
    • Compelling or inducing another to engage in labor, or recruiting, enticing, harboring or transporting another by providing drugs, withholding or destroying government documents, debt servicing, force, or a plan or pattern of coercive conduct.

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Common Myths About Human Trafficking

  • Human Trafficking requires an international or state border crossing. 
    False - no movement is needed for a situation to be considered “trafficking.”
  • Smuggling is required for Human Trafficking. 
    False - smuggling is not required, but a person who is smuggled may also be a victim of human trafficking.
  • Human trafficking victims must be foreign nationals. 
    False - victims may be U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, or undocumented persons.
  • Trafficking victims must be kidnapped and/or restrained physically. 
    False - victims may be threatened or manipulated into compliance, but do not necessarily have to be physically restrained or locked up.
  • If a victim previously consented to abuse or was paid, then it is not trafficking, even if they are no longer consenting and/or being paid.
    False - a person can become a victim, even if they were originally compliant or paid.

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Who is the Average Trafficking Victim?
Although all children are vulnerable, previously identified cases suggest that the following populations are at a higher risk of being trafficked:

  • Runaway and homeless youth
  • Children within the foster care system
  • Children with histories of abuse
  • Children with histories of substance abuse
  • Children with disabilities
  • Youth in the juvenile justice system
  • LGBTQ  youth
  • Refugees, immigrants, and non-English-speaking persons

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More Information about Victims:

  • 80% of identified victims are female
  • Over 50% are children
  • Average age of initial victimization: 13 years old
  • It is estimated that 100,000-300,000 U.S. citizen children are currently involved in sex trafficking.

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Building Trust with Victims

Victims will likely have experienced extensive physical and mental trauma and manipulation.  Therefore, trust-building is important to engage victims.

Victims must know that you’re not there to “turn them in”-- you’re there to keep them safe.

Victims will rarely self-identify as a victim of trafficking; they will usually present with another form of abuse, neglect, or maltreatment.

Victims might have been told that there will be repercussions if they disclose their trafficker; therefore, obtaining information may take a great deal of time and multiple interviews.

Privacy and confidentiality will be key -- do not divulge information to anyone who doesn’t need to know.  This is also very important for safety reasons.

Building rapport around immigration status, sexual abuse/experience, and other potentially difficult subjects will be key.

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Red Flags: Possible Signs of Child Trafficking

Sex Trafficking

  • Excess amount of cash
  • Hotel keys
  • Chronic runaway/homeless youth
  • Lying about age / false ID
  • Inconsistencies in story
  • Has engaged in prostitution or commercial sex acts
  • Any mention of a pimp/boyfriend
  • Refers to employer/boyfriend using slang such as “Daddy”

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Labor Trafficking

  • Family relationships not clear (trafficker may or may not present as formal guardian)
  • Child may not be biological child of “parent” in the home
    • No evidence of legal guardian
    • Works for “aunt” or “uncle”
  • Excluded from family events (e.g., church, vacations, parties)
  • Physically exhausted; works long hours
  • Child is fearful of family he/she lives with
  • Child is responsible for child care, elder care, or cleaning -- often hidden as “chores”

Source: Kaufka Walts, French, Moore & Ashai, 2011

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New York State Laws

Anti-Trafficking Law

The NYS Anti-Trafficking law established Human Trafficking as a state crime and established a process to “confirm” victims of Human Trafficking under this state law.  Confirmed victims, if otherwise eligible, are eligible for benefits and services.

Safe Harbor (Harbour) Law
This law was created to protect sexually exploited children from being charged with a juvenile delinquent (JD) offense, in appropriate cases.  The law defines children who are involved in these crimes as victims, not perpetrators.  The Safe Harbor Law provides services to children who have been sexually exploited.

Safe Harbor (Harbour) Project

The signing into law of the New York State Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act in 2008, was a pivotal moment in protecting and securing services for sexually exploited youth.  Prior to the Act’s passage, sexually exploited youth involved in illegal activities did not receive the protection of the Family Court and were instead prosecuted criminally, which did little more than to re-traumatize these victims.   Furthermore, once incarcerated, sexually exploited youth had no access to services that could address their specific social and emotional needs, and thus they often would return to a life on the streets once released.  The passage of the Act guaranteed that sexually exploited youth would be treated as child victims and be offered services that could pave the way for better outcomes.

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Protecting and Supporting Victims: New York State Protocol

NYS Protocol

When the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) receive a referral of a potential human trafficking victim, they make a determination as to whether or not the person meets the definition of a victim, and whether he/she can receive confirmation as a victim of human trafficking under the New York State law, or if he/she needs to be referred for certification as a victim of human trafficking under the Federal law.

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Confirmation/Certification of a Victim

  • Confirmation -- DCJS and OTDA make a joint decision to confirm the referred person as a victim of human trafficking under the New York State law.
  • Certification -- If appropriate, OTDA will work to have the referred person certified as a victim under Federal law (Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act or TVPA).

Confirmed/certified victims get referred to social services for an assessment of services needed.  Unlike adult victims, child victims get immediately referred to social services prior to the confirmation decision.

Undocumented victims get referred to the New York State Response to Human Trafficking Program (RHTP).  If a child victim is unaccompanied, he or she may be referred to the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) Program.

As soon as the social services district is notified, it must assess eligibility and make referrals for appropriate services.
These services may include the need for placement or shelter, mental health counseling, medical services, substance abuse treatment, immigration relief, etc.

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Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183)
Enacted in 2014, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act  (P.L. 113-183) “require[s] the state plan for foster care and adoption assistance to demonstrate that the state agency has developed policies and procedures for identifying, documenting in agency records, and determining appropriate services with respect to, any child or youth over whom the state agency has responsibility for placement, care, or supervision who the state has reasonable cause to believe is, or is at risk of being, a victim of sex trafficking or a severe form of trafficking in persons.”

For more information on P.L. 113-183 and OCFS’s implementation of it, please see:

Why Do Child Welfare Staff Need to Know About Sex Trafficking?

Child welfare workers have a huge role to play in the identification and referral process of child victims.
If you are working with a child whom you suspect has been trafficked, you can contact local law enforcement.  If the child’s parent/guardian is involved in the trafficking, you must call the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) at 1-800-342-3720.  

If the child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. 

If you are uncertain if a child is a victim of trafficking , need additional services, support, or referrals, or have additional questions, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888, for free and confidential referrals and assistance.

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