Two western New York agencies recently secured additional funding to fight human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the International Institute of Buffalo for their collaborative efforts to combat the crime.
Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Elizabeth Fildes says the $500,000 grant will be used educate community, law enforcement, educational institutions and faith based organizations about the signs of human trafficking.
“A lot of people don’t understand that human trafficking is not just sex trafficking, [that] it also can be part of labor trafficking. When you work eight hours, you get paid for eight hours. Our new citizens have to learn what is acceptable here and what we have as far as labor laws, that we have certain ages in which children can work, and certain ages where children cannot work,” said Fildes.
Fildes is also the Program Director of The Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force and Alliance. The alliance includes the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the International Institute of Buffalo the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General Office, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Wage and Worker Justice Hour, the Homeland Security Investigation, the FBI, the Border Patrol, the New York State Police, the Worker Justice Center of New York, the U.S. Air Force, the Coast Guard, and Missing and Exploited Children.
Fildes says all of the organizations collaborate to investigate trafficking in the 17 counties of western New York.
“Our American citizens have to be just as careful, because a lot of times now we’re having this sex trafficking happening with minors and women in our community,” said Fildes.
The International Institute of Buffalo received another $500,000 to assist the survivors of human trafficking. Director of Victims Services Amy Fleischauer says the funds will help victims obtain emergency food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare.
“I think the greatest piece of education is to really shift that one face of human trafficking that you might have in your mind. A lot of people think this is only happening to immigrants or Asian women, who are forced into the sex industry, but that’s only one face. We know this can happen to males, females, and children, from any socioeconomic or ethnic background,” said Fleischauer.
Fleischauer says the community can help combat human trafficking by tipping off police to any suspicious activity they notice at businesses or homes.