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#BringBackOurGirls

By  now,  I’m  sure  you’ve seen or heard the phrase, “Bring Back Our Girls.” It’s  the rallying cry of a movement to pressure the international community to rescue the 280 teenage schoolgirls who were brazenly kidnapped from  their Nigerian classrooms on April 14th.  The words have been tweeted over  one  million  times  across  the Internet and have generated numerous Facebook  pages  that  count  hundreds of thousands of followers.  Even the “old”  media  has  joined in as 24-hour news outlets vie to be the first to flash  photos  of  celebrities  holding  the  words emblazoned across their chests.

 

These  kidnappings  are  just the latest in a long list of atrocities perpetrated  against the Nigerian people by the deadly extremist group Boko Haram  who further outraged the world with a video broadcast threatening to sell the girls into slavery.   New Yorkers in particular, always leaders in social  justice,  were  enraged  at this blatant human trafficking.  Today, with this column, I hope to tap into that rage to bring your attention to a problem we have right here at home.

 

I’ll  begin with an uncomfortable fact –Human trafficking takes place here in New York State.  It also takes place every day on Long Island.  And yes,  it  happens  on  the main streets and shopping centers of your town–where  you  and  your families eat, shop, work and live.   Let me emphasize that point:  As you read this, human-trafficking is taking place throughout the  great  State  of  New  York.   How  big is the problem? One study from Hofstra  University  conservatively  puts the number of trafficking victims that have come forward here at more than 11,000.

 

And  you  know  what’s  worse?  Our  pitifully feeble and politicized response.  You  see,  last year the New York Senate passed the Trafficking Victims  Protection  and  Justice  Act  which  gives  our  law  enforcement authorities  a  fighting  chance  to  take  down  abusers.   The bill makes engaging  in  human trafficking a B felony, with stiffer penalties of up to 25  years  in  prison, while also making it easier for prosecutors to build cases  against  suspected  human traffickers.  And while the bill has clear bi-partisan  support  in both houses, a group of dissenters in the Assembly have  kept the bill tied to expanding abortion provisions within the state.

 

As a result, it’s been at a standstill for more than a year.

 

We  can all appreciate that true debate and discussion are what makes our  political  system work.  No one side has a lock on the truth and we’re certainly not expected to agree on everything.  But continuously tying this much  needed  bill to one that is unrelated and explosively divisive simply for the advantage of political leverage is despicable.  We can do something to fight human trafficking and we can do it right now.  Instead, the effort (and  the  victims)  are  being held hostage.  It troubles me and it should trouble  you too.  I am working with Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) and  Assemblywoman  Amy  Paulin (D-Scarsdale) to have this bill stand alone and  we need your support.  If we come together maybe we can save the human trafficking victims right here at home.