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For immediate release: January 31, 2022
Phone: 5184023130

The Reality of Human Trafficking: Egregious Abuse of Vulnerable Children


As we recently learned from a high-profile child sex trafficking case making headline news in New York, the demographic and social status of traffickers unfortunately cuts across an all-too-wide and deep segment of society.

Sadly, most children are exploited in much more common and mundane circumstances every day here in our own state. As we recognize Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, it is deeply sobering to note that New York was again in the top five states with the most contacts to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2020. 
Sex trafficking of children is the exchange of sex acts with a minor for something of value. That could be clothing, a place to stay, food or cash, but make no mistake, these exchanges harm children. Sex trafficking of children is more common than any of us would like to acknowledge. New York’s child welfare system has identified children who have been trafficked or were at risk of being trafficked nearly 5,000 times since 2015 – which amounts to more than 700 children each year. In addition, since 2017, the Safe Harbour: NY program, operating in all of New York’s 57 counties and the five boroughs of NYC to develop the capacities of local resources to respond to survivors, has identified an additional 8,106 youth as trafficked or at risk in New York state. The problem is here, in front of us, and it creates wounds in children that impact them for life.  
Children of all ages and genders are groomed and deceived by adults and subsequently lured into exploitive situations using fear, shame and threats. Once trapped, the adults force children and youth to endure sexual abuse and rape at the hands of paying customers or peddle sexual videos and photographs of the youth online to a vast network. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, child sex trafficking through online platforms hit record highs during the pandemic. Children and youth spent more time alone with their computers and smart phones – and adult predators were waiting to ensnare them.  
Online platforms have generally weak and ineffective responses to predators, and children continue to be placed in harm’s way.   
No child is immune from trafficking, but children and youth who have a history of abuse, and especially sexual abuse, are at highest risk. This includes youth in foster care and the juvenile justice system, youth who are homeless or ran away from home, and youth who do not have adequate adult support. LGBTQIA+ children and youth who are not accepted in their families, homes and communities face additional risks.  
In the face of this daunting social problem, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) supports local governments and service providers to build their capacity to identify and respond to children and youth who have survived sex and labor trafficking.  
We must all help prevent this egregious abuse of young people. Adults need to let children and youth know that they are loved and that they will be protected – rather than blamed – in the awful event they end up in a sexually exploitive, dangerous or violent relationship or encounter.   
New York’s schools are now required under Erin’s Law to teach sexual abuse and exploitation prevention to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Parents and community members: talk to your schools about this mandate so you can reinforce prevention efforts at home.  
Responding to child trafficking might feel overwhelming, but there is much we can do to help. All of us should learn to recognize the vulnerabilities to trafficking, talk to our children about grooming and understand that children and youth who are being sexually trafficked are not only victims of a horrific crime, but also survivors who can thrive.   
OCFS provides trafficking resources for professionals, parents and concerned community members. We all must do our part. Learn the warning signs of trafficking. Review OCFS’s website. Watch OCFS’s videos on trafficking. Together, we can build a future free from exploitation for all New York children and youth.