Trafficking in New York City

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Released 2 November 2011

My name is Kristen Folde, a Norwegian living in New York City. I have had the pleasure of spending five weeks with the International Social Justice Commission in my pursuit of a Masters Degree in Global Studies with a focus on Trafficking in Persons in New York.

Having heard rumours that there is an estimated 30 million slaves in the world today, my first aim was to see if New York City (NYC) has a trafficking problem. After reading the annual Trafficking in Persons (June, 2011) report written by the US Department of State, it is evident that this problem is a current issue in the US as well as in New York State (NYS). In fact, trafficking has been, and remains so prevalent in NYS that the State implemented a new Human Trafficking law in 2007. 

Through a few interviews and panel discussions I found that the diversity in trafficking in NYC (like anywhere else in the world) is only limited to the imagination of the trafficker. 

Slaves are found in industries such as, but not limited to domestic servitude, construction work and sex trafficking.  One of the stories I read and heard about in several contexts was the one of 54 deaf and mute persons trafficked from Mexico to NYC for exploitation on the subway. They were given 100 trinkets to sell for a dollar a day. They were not allowed to come back until they had sold them all. Running away from their captivators was very difficult because they were without papers and could not speak or write any English and American Sign Language is different from Hispanic Sign Language.

In a recent report by the NYS the numbers show that around 80% of the people trafficked in NYS are without immigration status. The same report also shows that there are 5000 T-visas (visas issued to people who have been trafficked into the USA) that can be issued each year and the past 10 years, approximately 2000 visas have been issued. The obvious question is then, “Does the law serve its purpose?”

In my interviews with various people one of the common issues that came up was the frustration with law enforcement. Why, for example, is it necessary for New York State Police to complete training in spotting victims of trafficking but deemed not necessary for NYPD to receive the same training?

What can I do?

Most victims of trafficking are unaware that they are being trafficked or enslaved and seldom come forward and state that they have been trafficked. Most times they come forward for something else, i.e. receiving healthcare or perhaps good Samaritans (everyday people who stretch out a hand) seeing that something is not normal and take action. In situations that involved bad working conditions, I was encouraged not to view it as merely a poor working condition but looking at it through the lens of human rights. Awareness is the key and the New York slogan – “If you see something, say something!” has never been more relevant or appropriate.

If you would like to learn more on Human Trafficking in the USA, please read: 



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