Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery in which victims, who are predominately female, are exploited and forced to work in the sex industry or to perform other forms of labor. In Suffolk County, human trafficking has become more prevalent in the wake of the opioid epidemic since traffickers will exploit their victims’ drug addiction to coerce them into performing free labor. In addition to fueling the opioid epidemic, human trafficking also promotes violence against women, has ties to gang activity and correlates to robberies and instances of assault at hotels and motels.
Traffickers use a number of tactics to keep victims under their control, including providing victims with drugs to impair their judgment, using drugs to create purported financial debts owed by the victims, and by using threats of violence. Most human traffickers have a personal relationship with their victims and will target victims who are vulnerable due to existing drug addiction, financial instability or previously being victims of domestic violence.
What is Being Done to Combat Human Trafficking in Suffolk County?
In 2018, Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart formally created a Human Trafficking Investigations Unit in the Suffolk County Police Department and District Attorney Timothy D. Sini launched a dedicated Human Trafficking Team within the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office’s Enhanced Prosecution Bureau. The two units work together, in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and other law enforcement partners, to investigate, arrest and prosecute human traffickers.
Most recently, the Human Trafficking Investigations Unit uncovered a case involving their youngest victim to date, a 12-year-old girl. Two men brought her and a 17-year-old girl to a motel where one of the men attempted to have the 12-year-old engage in sexual activities and encouraged her to become a prostitute. A further investigation determined the 17-year-old had been a prostitute for one of the men for several years. The men were arrested and charged with Sex Trafficking and Kidnapping in the Second Degree.
Members of the Police Department and District Attorney’s Office also provide training to businesses, including hotels and transportation companies, on how to determine if an individual might be a victim of human trafficking to encourage members of the private sector to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
In addition, Suffolk County law enforcement works with not-for-profit organizations to connect victims of human trafficking to services, including drug abuse rehabilitation and temporary housing. By treating victims of human trafficking as victims rather than as criminals themselves, law enforcement has seen an increased level of cooperation from victims, which leads to more effective investigations.
What Can the Public Do to Help?
Human trafficking comes in many forms, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude. Victims can be found in a number of commercial establishments, including massage parlors, restaurants or hotels, as well as locations used for soliciting sex services, such as rest stops, hotels or clubs.
The Suffolk County Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office encourage anyone who believes he or she has witnessed human trafficking or is a victim of human trafficking to contact law enforcement. Tips can be provided anonymously to Suffolk County Crime Stoppers by calling 1-800-220-TIPS, texting “SCPD” and your message to CRIMES (274637), or by visiting www.tipsubmit.com. If you are a victim of human trafficking or would like to report suspected human trafficking, you can also call the District Attorney’s Office at 631-853-5602. We are here to help.