BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Two new public service announcements (PSAs) have been unveiled by the Western District of New York Human Trafficking Taskforce to address a problem the task force says often goes unnoticed.
They were created as part of a $20,000 grant, earmarked for the production of two new ads that can raise awareness of human trafficking in the region and let victims know how they can get help, according to the Erie County Sheriff's Office.
At an unveiling event Wednesday, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said, "I am very pleased we, in the law enforcement community, are expanding our efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking incidents and equally happy to be part of the PSAs to raise awareness of human trafficking and to especially let victims know my office can help them."
The videos will initially be internet based, but will eventually be on television throughout Western New York.
In 2015, there were more than 110 reported incidents of human trafficking with 149 victims within Western New York, according to the sheriff's department. They resulted in multiple arrests and convictions.
"We believe there are more victims of human trafficking than what has been reported because, most likely, victims don't know where to turn for help," Erie County Sheriff Howard said. "We believe the PSAs will reach victims and show them there is an escape from their imprisonment."
One of the PSAs discusses the commercial sex trade aspect of human trafficking and the other explains how traffickers persuade victims in threatening ways to perform labor services.
"For too long, the plight of victims of human trafficking and labor trafficking has gone unnoticed, even though it occurs right in front of us," said acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty, Jr. "I am so proud to collaborate with my law enforcement partners to help these victims and prosecute their abusers."
Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or threatening persuasion to bring victims into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Often, traffickers target people who are emotionally and psychologically vulnerable. Victims may also be facing economic hardships or may be victims of political unrest and natural disasters.
The task force is working with the Greater Metropolitan Crime Stoppers to utilize a tip line for reporting illegal human trafficking activities. Calls can be made to 716-867-6161 and all are anonymous.