A federal court dedicated to cases of human trafficking could become a reality in the Western District of New York, according to advocates who met Wednesday in the Mahoney State Office Building for a forum on the issue sponsored by State Sens. Mark J. Grisanti and Patrick Gallivan.
“We need a courtroom for prostituted women here in the Western District,” said Deputy Elizabeth Files of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. “One of the women I interviewed had 144 arrests. I listened to more than 450 victims in the community, and I learned from those victims.”
The new court, Files suggested, could be modeled after a similar effort in Queens County that championed the rights of sex-trafficking victims.
In all, more than 450 victims of human trafficking have been identified since 2006 in the 17 counties that comprise the state’s Western District, Files said.
Amber Motzer, a sex-trafficking survivor, told her story Wednesday.
At age 21 and in Rochester, Motzer – after months of drug abuse, forced sex and beatings – sought to break free from the human trafficker who had ruined her life. It wasn’t easy.
Time after time, Motzer said, she was turned away by law enforcement and health care professionals who said there were no resources in place for victims like her.
“Our ability to rescue victims is growing,” said William Hochul Jr., U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, one of the first federal court districts in the country to establish a task force to combat human trafficking.
Hochul targeted the Internet as a major concern and cited “a growing proliferation of websites dedicated to advertising sexual activity and sexual services.”
Hochul pointed to a local case from last August, when an Amherst man was charged with recruiting, promoting and profiting from prostitution activities of at least three local females – two younger than 18 and one in her 20s.
Kenneth Graham, 25, was convicted in January of running a sex-trafficking operation out of a handful of hotels and motels in Amherst and Cheektowaga.
During their testimony, the victims said Graham recruited them and then used threats and violence to keep them working long after they wanted out of the business.
Labor trafficking also was addressed during the round-table discussion.
“Human trafficking is not restricted to the city,” said FBI Special Agent Jennifer Amo, one of about 10 people who addressed the lunchtime seminar. ”It’s everywhere, but it’s a crime you have to look for. Consider the maid who lives two doors down who you never see.”
Karen O’Hara, of Springville – a former Mrs. New York America – founded United Hands of Hope, a group addressing human trafficking. O’Hara spoke of the need to teach young adults about the problem and said a documentary called “Chosen” dispelled myths about trafficking.
“We hope to get this into the schools as part of a one-hour class each year for seventh grade to high school,” said O’Hara. “Recruiting young women for human trafficking does not happen overnight. The grooming process takes three to six months.”