Comprehensive handbook to aid service providers and victim advocates in making referrals; new e-reporting system is facilitating human trafficking referrals to NYS
The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) announced a pair of online resources aimed at facilitating human trafficking referrals to New York state. These resources include a new digital handbook to assist service providers and victim advocates with making human trafficking referrals, and an e-reporting system that allows them and law enforcement to submit these referrals electronically.
“Service providers and advocates can often be the first point of contact for victims of human trafficking, so it’s important that they recognize the nuances of this crime and how to properly refer these cases,” said OTDA Commissioner Mike Hein, co-chairman of the New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking. “By raising awareness of the referral process and making it more accessible, we can effectively help a greater number of these victims access a wide breadth of vital assistance that can help them become self-sufficient.”
Published on OTDA’s website, “Human Trafficking: A Handbook for Social Service Providers and Victim Advocates” provides a comprehensive look at this crime, including how to identify and screen victims, how to provide trauma-informed care, and how navigate the state’s referral process. In addition, the 23-page guide provides information about the state’s “Response to Human Trafficking Program,” the New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking, and vital contacts to assist victims.
The e-reporting system allows law enforcement and established legal or social service providers to electronically submit human trafficking cases to New York’s victim referral process, which is jointly administered by the OTDA and the DCJS. Previously, the only method to submit a referral was sending the form via fax.
“The e-reporting tool is helping to streamline the reporting system and will better position providers to identify human trafficking,” said Michael C. Green, DCJS executive deputy commissioner and co-chairman of the task force. “I’m proud of DCJS staff and the work they do every day to help train law enforcement so they can recognize and put a stop to human trafficking and hold perpetrators of this crime accountable. I am proud of the work we do with OTDA and our other partners through the task force to raise awareness, hold offenders accountable and protect and assist trafficking victims.”
A press release stated, “The e-reporting system has resulted in 112 referrals so far in 2021, which accounts for 80% of total referrals this year. Fax referrals are continuing to be accepted, but are expected to be phased out by 2022. Once confirmed through the state’s referral process, trafficking victims can access critical services and programs geared toward meeting their essential needs. Confirmation letters from the state can also help victims in vacating certain criminal charges stemming from their cases, serve as supporting documentation for civil lawsuits or be used as a substitution for a police report when applying for victim assistance from the state when a police report is not available.”
New York allocates nearly $2.4 million annually to the “Response to Human Trafficking Program,” which provides case management and referral services to confirmed human trafficking victims throughout the state. Administered by OTDA, the program focuses on those victims who would otherwise have no access to needed services, including those who are beginning to work in coordination with an investigation or prosecution and have been confirmed as a victim.
The commissioners of OTDA and DCJS also oversee the task force, which includes 10 member agencies that coordinate all the state’s interagency activities regarding human trafficking. Last summer, the task force undertook the #TruthAboutTrafficking social media campaign to raise greater awareness of human trafficking and help dispel common misconceptions about the crime and its victims.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, “Human trafficking is a violation of human rights, and I am proud of the efforts New York state has made to put an end to it, hold perpetrators accountable, raise awareness and support victims. I am also extremely proud that OVS provides financial compensation for victims of human trafficking and funds victim assistance providers and advocates to assist victims with access to counseling, financial assistance, medical care and other services.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking referrals continued the pace of recent years and increased in 2020, with 338 cases referred to New York – more than in any prior year since the referral process was started in 2007. Of these referrals, 301 were confirmed: 79 for labor trafficking, 205 for sex trafficking, and 16 for both. These cases were spread throughout the state, with 115 in New York City, 60 in the Long Island and lower Hudson Valley regions, and 126 in upstate.
Anyone who suspects they may be a victim or a witness to human trafficking is encouraged to call the Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233733 (BeFree). Additionally, help for victims is also available through the Office of Victim Services, which is a member agency on the task force and funds more than 200 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services throughout the state.