Brooklyn D.A. to get federal funds to fight sex traffickers
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s office will be getting federal funds to assist victims of sex trafficking, according to U.S. senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who said the Department of Justice is allocating more than $2 million to four recipients in New York City.
The funding is meant to be used specifically for assisting the survivors of human trafficking through survivor-centered services and interagency communication, officials said. The Kings County D.A.’s office has been awarded $600,000 by the Dept. of Justice. Thompson’s office will work with the non-profit group Safe Horizon Incorporated to create a task force to combat human trafficking.
The task force will be charged with developing strategies to identify human trafficking survivors; pursue sex and labor trafficking cases and provide a comprehensive variety of services to survivors. Safe Horizon Incorporated has been awarded $550,000 in federal funds. Thompson’s office already has a Human Trafficking Unit that investigates and prosecutes suspects who commit psychological and physical coercion, beatings, extortion, starvation, confinement and compelled drug use to force victims into prostitution, according to the D.A.’s website.
The unit also conducts community outreach to educate Brooklyn residents on the warning signs that a person might be a trafficking victim. The office has a 24-hour hotline number to report incidents. The number is 718-250-2770. Sex trafficking could be taking place even in solid, middle-class communities like Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, according to law enforcement to officials.
In November of 2014, Thompson announced that police and investigators from his office raided nine massage parlors in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, arrested 15 women on prostitution-related charges and padlocked the allegedly illicit businesses. Thompson and Police Commissioner William Bratton both said the massage parlors were fronts for prostitution. The massage parlors, which billed themselves as day spas, were shut down.
At the time, investigators expressed concern that many of the employees of the massage parlors were actually victims of human trafficking. The women were screened by New York Police Department Vice Enforcement and Victims Services counselors for indications of human trafficking. The federal funds from the Dept. of Justice will also go to two other recipients: Convent House New York/Under 21, which was awarded $588,286; and Ali Forney Center, Inc. which will get $331,736.
Covenant House helps homeless and runaway youth survivors of sex and/or labor trafficking by providing mental health care through local, state, and federal resources. The Ali Forney Center assists the homeless and LGBTQ youths who fall victim to human trafficking.
“With this critical federal funding, these organizations will be able to continue their important work, prosecuting vile sex- and labor-traffickers and serving the survivors of human trafficking in New York City,” Schumer (D-New York) said in a statement. “It is important that we work to both eliminate human trafficking through prosecution and help survivors obtain the comprehensive services they need and deserve.”
Gillibrand (D-New York) said the funding will give the recipients a chance to come up with a wide variety of ways to help sex trafficking victims.
“New York City will now have additional resources to identify and respond to the needs of human trafficking survivors. I will continue to push for funding to help keep our families safe and better protected,” she said.
The Dept. of Justice awards grants to states to local governments and non-governmental organizations that have a history of providing assistance, social services, legal services or mental health services to survivors of human trafficking.
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