BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force is launching a new public campaign to call attention to the ongoing issue of human trafficking for both sexual and labor purposes.
The status of Buffalo as a border community is a major factor. But experts point out that trafficking involves many vulnerable children, men, and women here in the United States. The International Labor Organization estimates there are between 400,000 to 500,000 individuals now being trafficked in the United States.
Federal prosecutors have stepped up their efforts in Western New York with 18 trafficking cases last year.
The International Institute of Buffalo says it provided services to about 350 survivors last year and that half were under the age of 18. The institute is calling on the public to be aware and to alert them to potential cases of trafficking.
Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly says there are certain behavior patterns for trafficking.
"If someone has limited movement," Kelly said. "If someone is being controlled by another person...being told what to do. Or if there's a bunch of people moving at the direction of someone else...it doesn't seem right. They seem confused, they seem lost. There's lots of indicators."
Agents are working with the local hotel industry to call attention to such cases. Some communities elsewhere are even putting warnings in the bathrooms of restaurants to encourage victims to seek help.
The public is now encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if they suspect someone may be a victim of trafficking.
Partners in the task force include the US Attorney's Office of the Western District, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI, the Erie County Sheriff's Office, the Erie County District Attorney's Office, and the International Institute of Buffalo.