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Western New York Working to Halt Human Trafficking

By Joyce Kryszak

Lewiston, NY – Western New Yorkers were shocked in December when a police sting closed down several massage parlors operating a sex slavery business. But members of the local human trafficking task force say no one should be surprised. Members of the task force and others gathered Wednesday to begin educating the public on who is being victimized and what is being done to stop it.

About two hundred people showed up bright and early for the conference at Niagara University. They settled in with hot coffee and pastries ready to hear about the legal fight to halt the estimated $16 billion human trafficking industry. But they were woken up quickly to the very human side of this dark business.

Toronto journalist Victor Malarek spent two years interviewing victims in several countries. And he did not flinch from telling people exactly what he found out -young girls, tortured and living in fear.

Malarek recounts these and other horrifying realities in his book, The Natasha's: Inside the New Global Sex Trade. He said people need to open their eyes to what is happening all over the world to young women and girls.

Hundreds of thousands are taken to other countries and forced to work as sex slaves. He said some are lured from desperation to other countries with false promises of a legitimate job and a better life.

And many are sold into slavery by those who are supposed to protect them. Malarek said orphanages in Russia are prime suppliers of some of the youngest victims.

And officials say no one is paying much attention to them when they show up in our neighborhoods either. The December sting revealed that eleven Asian women were held as sex slaves in some of Western New York's most unsuspecting suburbs.

Amy Fleischauer is coordinator for Trafficking Victims' Services at the International Institute in Buffalo. She said the community ca not pretend it is not happening here.

She said the Buffalo Niagara region is a prime spot for human trafficking. Partly because of its border location, she said the region serves as a pass through and training ground for Toronto and New York city. But she said there is also plenty of demand right here, not only for sex slaves, but for all kinds of slave labor, from agricultural to domestic.

And she said the victims are not necessarily foreign born - some are United States citizens, and include women, girls, men and boys.

Last year, she said the Institute helped about one hundred victims. But Flaischauer said this is probabaly only the tip of the ice berg. Getting the public to help identify victims is one problem. But she said many victims are too fearful of their captors to seek help or prosecution.

The institute works with local and federal law enforcement on the task force to coordinate the best response and enforcement. Lev Kubiak is the Special Agent in Charge in Buffalo for the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kubiak said human trafficking is a top priority for his office. He said these are victims, not illegally transported goods, or people willingly smuggled into the country.

Journalist Malarek said conferences like the one Wednesday are a good start toward making victims whole. But he said people around the world need to become outraged and put an end to what he calls the worst human rights violation of our time.

Offiiclas say tips from the public are the best tool in their fight against human trafficking. They ask people to be aware of any signs that could indicate their are victims being held against their will, such as fearfulness, or a high volume of male customers at a business.

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