Panelist Sister Joan Dawber, at a recent meeting of the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women, called human trafficking "the most egregious thing that one human being can do to another."
The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Port Washington recently co-sponsored an informational meeting on the subject of human trafficking. The event, which was held on the Old Westbury campus of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), featured a panel consisting of Dr. Edward Maggio, assistant professor of Criminal Justice, NYIT; Sister Joan Dawber SC, co-chair of the New York Coalition of Religious Congregations Stop Trafficking of Persons; Minna Elias, New York Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney; and Nancy Mion, New York State Public Policy Director, Safe Harbor Legislation. The meeting was chaired by Barbara Kaim, AAUW co-president.
Sister Dawber defined human trafficking as "the buying and selling of human beings." She added, "When I say it, it appalls me that we are saying men, women and children are bought and sold, used and abused." By its nature, it is impossible to know how many individuals are victims of this trafficking, but most estimates put the figure at approximately one million annually, with over 15,000 being trafficked into the United States every year. The overwhelming majority of the victims are women and children. Dawber commented, "We can cite many statistics, but I want to bring voice to those who have been trafficked," adding that a sister with whom she works is writing a book that will do just that.
Regrettably, this issue has received relatively little attention in this country or around the world, although Dr. Maggio pointed out that the United States has done more to address the problem than any other country in the world. He commented that even in his field-criminal justice-this generally is not considered a high priority, citing one professor from an Ivy League college who scoffed at Maggio's interest in the problem, which he called a "statistical anomaly." Maggio showed a picture of one of the child victims, saying, "Tell this child: 'You are an anomaly; you are not a priority.'"
The panelists pointed out that human trafficking is an enormously profitable business, netting billions of dollars each year to those who practice it. Elias said, "It is the third highest dollar value crime and is said to be on the rise worldwide." She added that it doesn't carry as much risk as, for example, gun running or drug trafficking, for a number of reasons: it is more difficult to get "hard" evidence, the victims often cannot or will not testify, and there is much less interest on the part of law enforcement to prosecute these crimes. Another problem is that, up until fairly recently, there were not sufficient laws on the books specific to human trafficking, thus making prosecution difficult. Elias and the other panelists filled us in on the legislation that has been passed at that which is pending, encouraging the participants to take action with their federal and state elected officials. A number of informational handouts were available detailing current and pending legislation.
"Victims can be found in ordinary neighborhoods," Dawber said, a thought echoed by the other panelists. Maggio said, "They are in New York, on Long Island. Case in point: the couple who recently were convicted of enslaving domestic workers from Indonesia right on the North Shore of Long Island not too many miles from where this conference was held." Maggio added, "You may have experienced human slaves in restaurants or worn clothes made by human slaves." Elias reminded the participants that not all human trafficking is from other countries; much of it takes place within the United States.
Elias said that the overwhelming majority of prostitutes begin practicing their trade at a very young age, 13 or 14 and sometimes even younger. By definition, these girls can be considered human slaves, as they are always coerced; this is not something that they freely and willingly do. Elias commented, "Law enforcement is in a massive state of denial about these girls. They are usually treated as criminals, not victims." She said that, despite the fact that, although New York State has the best human trafficking law in the country, it does not specifically address the plight of these children.
These two powerful groups-AAUW and LWV-have lent their voice to this issue that affects mainly girls and women, and that gets so little attention. Maggio expressed the sentiments of the panel, and most likely most of the participants, when he said, "There is nothing more horrible than the buying and selling of human beings.