The University at Albany hosted a panel discussion Thursday afternoon to raise awareness on what defines human trafficking and how the Capital Region is impacted by it.
New York had the fourth-highest number of reported human trafficking cases in the United States as of 2018, according to statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
UAlbany senior Gabriella Bartley, a homeland security major, is president of Students Stopping Trafficking of People, the on-campus organization that led the two-hour session. "Albany is actually the gateway if you want to call it that, towards the Northeast where other victims are. There's a lot of mass transportation systems taking place here. So it just makes it kind of a hub. And there's students on this campus who are involved in this. So we want to make sure that people feel that they have a way where they can reach out for help if they want to, and that there's resources available."
Mary Armistead is an attorney at The Legal Project in Albany. "Human trafficking looks very different than we think of it and as we see it on TV, and as it's reported. We often think that it's these large, vile transnational organizations that are trafficking mostly immigrants and mostly for sex trafficking. But you know, I've seen that, you know, individuals are trafficked by other individuals or small groups of people or family members, and there's a lot of coercion that's used as opposed to force, and people just don't really understand the dynamics of that coercive relationship between a trafficker and their victim."
Sarah McGaughnea, community outreach program director at the Unity House of Troy's domestic violence services, says many victims she sees are actually victims of sex trafficking. "There's this relationship between the two parties, right? Oftentimes, people human traffickers work to cultivate a relationship. I've seen for up to 10 years they'll cultivate a relationship between the person that they intend to traffic. And so at that point, you have this compelling relationship you have these coercive means that are being used to keep you there and that you have reason to believe that other people won't believe you right? Because we often victim blame in our society. We tell you, oh, it's your fault. You got yourself into this mess. You fell for this. You haven't left it even though you could. We think that police won't believe us. We think that, you know, family members might not believe us. We don't want to be ashamed, things like that."
McGaughnea adds traffickers use information disseminated on radio, tv and newspapers to manipulate victims. "We see traffickers holding things that are on the media and holding things like the news over victims to keep them in these situations. Right? So if you go ahead and go tell people what's going on, they're just going to send you know, they're just going to have you deported.”
Armistead says what she's seen most is people trafficked for domestic servitude. "Being kept basically as a maid or a slave in someone's house. And again, there's a variety of coercive factors that are used there. I think we would think of people that are like locked in basements or somehow physically restrained, but it's usually you know, if you don't do this, I'm going to report you to immigration and you'll be deported. Or if you don't do this, I'll harm you or your children or things like that."