Human trafficking panel at forum

January 31, 2019

New York State sponsors forum to highlight the issue of labor trafficking

Nationally recognized expert in the fight against trafficking and survivor of labor trafficking featured at event to mark January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month

In recognition of January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, New York State today sponsored a forum featuring a nationally recognized expert in the fight against labor trafficking, a trafficking survivor and state Labor Department staff who highlighted their work with victims and survivors. The event, sponsored by the state’s Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, was hosted this evening by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

The event featured Martina E. Vandenberg, founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, D.C., and Fainess Lipenga, a survivor of labor trafficking and an active member of the National Survivor Network since 2013. Their presentation, in the College’s Moot Court Room, was followed by a panel discussion of how labor trafficking cases are identified and services available in New York State.

The Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, co-chaired by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), provides guidance on protocols and best practices for training and outreach, gathers data and evaluates approaches to increase public awareness about human trafficking, which is the illegal trade or use of a person against their will for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

OTDA Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts said, “Human trafficking is an especially despicable form of criminal exploitation that observes no geographic boundaries and creates an almost unparalleled depth of need among its victims. Our agency remains committed to helping law enforcement and service providers throughout New York provide much-needed assistance to any victims left in the wake of this form of modern-day slavery. Likewise, we applaud the efforts of our partners on the Interagency Task Force to provide guidance and raise public awareness for this critical issue.”

DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael C. Green said, “My agency is committed to providing training and guidance to law enforcement agencies so they can effectively investigate and prosecute these cases. As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand how difficult it can be for crime victims to come forward and disclose devastating details of their experience. We are proud to partner with other state agencies to support local law enforcement who bring these criminals to justice and service providers who help victims become survivors.”

Other state agencies on the Task Force are: Department of Health, Office of Mental Health, Department of Labor, Office of Children and Family Services, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Office of Victim Services, Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, and State Police. The Task Force was created in 2007, the same year New York State enacted legislation to target sex and labor trafficking and support its victims.

The human trafficking law in New York State is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. Any law enforcement agent can make a referral for services if he or she believes a person is being trafficked. In 2015, Governor Cuomo signed a law that allows established social and legal service providers to also make referrals to the New York State confirmation process.

New York State funds the Response to Human Trafficking Program, which provides case management and referral services to individuals confirmed as human trafficking victims. The program, administered by OTDA, last year received 248 referrals, resulting in 227 confirmed trafficking cases: 41 cases of labor trafficking, 163 cases of sex trafficking, and 23 cases involving both crimes.

About Martina E. Vandenberg

Martina E. Vandenberg has spent more than two decades fighting human trafficking and forced labor through advocacy. A practicing attorney, she has provided pro bono legal representation to victims in immigration, criminal, and civil cases. As the founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, she helped train more than 3,200 attorneys to offer victims pro bono representation. In addition to her work in the legal community, Vandenberg has spearheaded human rights investigations in Russia, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, Israel, and Ukraine. She is the author of two Human Rights Watch reports and published the first account documenting human trafficking in Israel. She has testified on an array of human rights issues before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, the Helsinki Commission, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the House Armed Services Committee.

About Fainess Lipenga

Fainess Lipenga has been an active member of the National Survivor Network since 2013. As a survivor of labor trafficking, she uses her voice and experience to educate the community and raise awareness. Her mission is to prevent other survivors from being re-victimized and to give them hope and courage to heal, become leaders, and achieve their dreams. Ms. Lipenga has testified before the U.S. Congress regarding the challenges survivors face. She has presented to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. She has provided training for pro bono lawyers, law students, physicians, law enforcement officials, and federal prosecutors. She has spoken at national conferences and developed expert training materials. Ms. Lipenga serves as a survivor-consultant to the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, DC. Ms. Lipenga is the recipient of the Justice for Victims of Crime Award from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Washington, D.C.

Stop Human Trafficking

If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 for free and confidential help in 170 languages, or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).

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