Carol Elizabeth Owens
The secret is starting to come out about human trafficking – the exploitation of people for profit.
“Human trafficking is happening in the greater Rochester area – right here in our community,” said Celia McIntosh, president of the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking (RRCAHT).
The coalition has launched a marketing campaign called, “Yes. Here!” to draw attention to human trafficking in the city, suburbs and rural areas.
To raise more awareness the coalition has scheduled a conference at 9 a.m. Jan. 10 at the Ebenezer Watts Conference Center, 49 S. Fitzhugh St. Officials from the City of Rochester and Monroe County are expected to recognize RRCAHT, along with other local agencies, nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations and individuals, for their work to educate about the impact of human trafficking in the area.
The event is expected to feature a round-table discussion about a legislative proposal to de-criminalize prostitution in New York State, as well as local government issuance of proclamations recognizing Human Trafficking Awareness Day and addressing RRCAHT’s efforts to combat what is called modern-day slavery.
Human trafficking can take two forms: sex trafficking in which minors are forced into commercial sex acts, and labor trafficking in which individuals are subjected to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.
McIntosh, who holds master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing from St. John Fisher College, has been the coalition’s board chairperson since 2016. In 2019, RRCAHT educated over a thousand people locally about human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is often under-reported because a lot of traffickers prey on our community’s most vulnerable populations, such as youth, people with addictions, homeless persons, refugees, mentally ill individuals, LGBTQ members, and poverty stricken people… these victims frequently do not know they are being trafficked,” she said. Sometimes there are language barriers which traffickers use to their own advantage.
Perpetrators often use psychological manipulation, coercion and other forms of oppression and force in order to violate their targets. “It is not unusual for these predators to supply drugs, shelter, basic human needs (such as food and clothing) and even relationships” to trap victims, she said.
“We are often under-educated about how it can happen,” said McIntosh, who also noted that African Americans are often chosen by human traffickers because when their victims are Black, predators who are prosecuted receive lesser penalties.
RRCAHT uses education, advocacy and networking with individuals and organizations to eliminate human trafficking. The organization provides services agencies with care bags filled with personal items most needed by victims.
For more about RRCAHT and its events, go to www.rrcaht.org.