FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 17, 2013
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)
Democratic BOL Leaders Fault Cuts to Human Trafficking Task Force in Astorino’s 2013 Budget
White Plains, NY – When New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr., announced this week that he had appointed a committee to study human trafficking with the idea of preventing children and adults from being forced into prostitution and hard labor against their will, he acknowledged the prevalence of “one of America’s dark secrets.”
The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) has been involved in eradicating human trafficking here in the county since 2011, when it helped fund the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force and organize a training session for local law enforcement officials in this regard.
Fittingly, BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), Majority Leader Pete Harckham (D-Katonah) and Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), who chairs the BOL’s Community Services Committee, congratulated members of the task force in February 2012 on its successful first full year of operation at a press conference held in the offices of My Sisters’ Place, an organization that provides advocacy and services for victims of domestic violence.
A year later, the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force is still at work but without support from the County, as its entire line of funding—$20,000—that was approved by the BOL Democratic caucus was eliminated in the Republican-led 2013 Astorino Budget.
“This nominal amount of funding for an initiative aimed at protecting some of the county’s most vulnerable residents should have received full support from my colleagues on the Board of Legislators, and I’m shocked that it wasn’t,” said Harckham. “We know this scourge is present here in Westchester, and there should be no hesitation in working to combat it the best we can. Cutting the funding sends the wrong message to traffickers.”
Since its inception, the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force—led by Ali Boak, Co-Founder and President of International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA); Audrey Stone, 2nd Deputy District Attorney and Chief, Special Prosecutions, Westchester County District Attorney’s Office; Pound Ridge Police Department Chief David Ryan; and Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place—has been conducting proactive investigations of sex and labor trafficking crimes while collaborating with local, state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies. It has identified victims of trafficking and supported prosecution of the trafficking crimes through its enhancement of community reporting of the crimes, thanks to specific training and outreach activities.
“This task force has been ahead of the curve in recognizing that a sizeable immigrant population working in a variety of industries and businesses around Westchester makes the county a prime location for trafficking,” said Jenkins. “Public safety officials and community leaders need the awareness and tools to fight this reprehensible violation of human rights, which the task force provides. Cutting its funding is both regressive and dangerous.”
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