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Human trafficking is focus of the new state panel

New York state is ramping up the fight against human trafficking. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and a new panel's been formed to address the issue. Members include Erie County Sheriff Deputy Theresa Nietzel, the department's Human Trafficking Investigator, who is also a member of the Western New York Trafficking Task Force. Nietzel says it's a growing issue and community members are law enforcement's most important ally.

"Because a lot of the situations that we come across it's not someone calling 9-1-1 for local law enforcement to help them out. These situations are coming across with anybody who works in any type of service industry where they're recognizing red flags for the person saying, 'something just doesn't seem right.' And then they are reporting to us and we're able to then identify situations of human trafficking," Nietzel said.

Victims of human trafficking come from all walks of life and have been found in every county across the region. And she says victims are predominantly female, but males are also being exploited for domestic sex trafficking and labor trafficking.