Funding for Western District Human Trafficking Taskforce
Congressman Brian Higgins, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB) on Tuesday announced a three-year federal grant totaling $1.5 million awarded to Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force (WDTF). Awarded by the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, the grant provides funding to identify and support all survivors of human trafficking, regardless of age, type of trafficking, or immigration status, while investigating and prosecuting their traffickers throughout the Western District of New York.
“Victims of human trafficking are often under-identified and underserved across the United States,” Higgins said. “This funding ensures that law enforcement and community partners have the tools and resources they need to reach a greater number of trafficking victims, help them address their trauma, and hold their abusers accountable.”
Garcia said, “The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has had a dedicated human trafficking team since 2006 and is proud to be an original member of the Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force. My deputies and our partners work every day to free victims from their abusers. However, our region is experiencing an increase in these crimes. So, my plan is to use these funds to increase our victim screening, enhance the agency’s intelligence gathering and investigative techniques, and implement intervention and prevention programs for our community.”
Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Buffalo Matthew Scarpino said, "Human trafficking is an egregious crime where one human being preys on another. Homeland Security Investigations, with our partners on the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force, remain committed to combatting this abhorrent crime and helping those victims who need it most."
Poloncarz added, “Human trafficking is an insidious and pervasive crime that steals victims’ lives and destroys their freedom, happening undetected in our own community. Erie County will continue to work with partners to stop this cycle of destruction, assist victims however possible, and prosecute those responsible for trafficking to the fullest extent of the law. I thank Congressman Higgins for his focus on this issue and for protecting our residents.”
IIB Interim Executive Director Jenny Rizzo-Choi said, "The International Institute of Buffalo is pleased to continue its facilitation of this innovative, multidisciplinary collaborative and, with the support of Department of Justice funding, to ensure that all survivors of human trafficking receive the services and justice they seek.”
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said, “This federal grant will support our commitment to end human trafficking by funding our multiagency task force for the next three years. The Western District of New York Human Trafficking Task Force consists of prosecutors, law enforcement and service agencies that collaborate to uncover this criminal industry, prosecute the traffickers, and obtain justice for the victims. I want to thank Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the International Institute of Buffalo and our other partners for the work they do every day to investigate these crimes, while providing trauma-informed support and services to the survivors of sex and labor trafficking. I also want to thank Congressman Brian Higgins and the Department of Justice for ensuring that we continue to receive funding for anti-trafficking efforts in Western New York.”
Announced during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the grant will support the Western District Human Trafficking Taskforce, a partnership between the International Institute of Buffalo and the Erie County sheriff in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York to combat human trafficking in New York’s Western District. Core team members include Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Department of Labor, Erie County District Attorney’s Office, Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Willow Services in Rochester.
A press release noted, “The Western District of New York Task Force is one of the most experienced in the nation, having received continuous funding from the U.S. Department of Justice since 2006. The task force works to develop victim-centered approaches to successfully investigate, prosecute, and support stabilization and healing for survivors of human trafficking. Data provided by the task force indicates that, between 2018 and 2020, human trafficking investigations increased from 70 to 110, and the number of victims served increased from 203 to 328.
“This collaborative project identifies a number of goals: strengthening the leadership structure and coordination of multidisciplinary partnerships and activities; identifying and serving all types of human trafficking; implementing victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative approaches to combating trafficking, planning and executing investigations and prosecutions; utilizing advanced methods for gathering criminal intelligence and conducting investigations; investigating, referring and prosecuting both sex and labor trafficking cases at the local, state, tribal and federal levels; and ensuring safety, independence, self-sufficiency and well-being for survivors.”
Investigative and prosecutorial efforts will encompass all 17 counties in the Western District. Service provisions, led by the International Institute and assisted by subawards to the Volunteer Lawyers Project and Willow Services, will be concentrated in Erie and Monroe counties and available to surrounding counties. Additionally, task force leadership will deliver training and public awareness materials about sex and labor trafficking, provide peer support for newer trafficking task forces, as well as tools and resources.
The Western District of New York Human Trafficking Taskforce has served the 17 counties across Western and upstate New York for 13 years. They work with law enforcement, victim service organizations, prosecutors and other community partners to better serve survivors and raise awareness about human trafficking. To learn more, visit www.wnytrafficking.org.
To contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 or live chat online at humantraffickinghotline.org.