Governor Hochul: “It really has become a form of slavery…going on here in New York and in communities like this. That's the reality check that's facing us right now. We can't ignore this. We can't turn our heads and say, ‘No, that's not happening – human trafficking, that happens elsewhere.’ It's happening in our midst.”
Hochul: “Here in New York, we have no tolerance for this. We're going to continue to break this cycle of suffering so victims can change from victims into survivors. That's what we have to do. That is our goal here so they can tell their stories, they can go out with confidence and courage, and maybe their voices can help stop someone else from falling into the same trap that they did. Everyone has a right to be free from fear, and they deserve to have that freedom.”
Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a legislative package that expands the New York State Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking in members and length of duty to ensure the work the task force does can continue uninhibited. The Governor also signed legislation that ensures transportation hubs across the state are displaying information that may be of use to victims of human trafficking, providing them information on services available. Additionally, Governor Hochul highlighted $2.3 million that was recently awarded to contractors that provide services to survivors and victims of human trafficking across the state.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Thank you everyone. Thank you, Senator Liu, for welcoming us to your amazing District. I have been here so many times. My good friends, I see Peter too, and so many others welcoming you here once again. Thank you to the Glow Community Center. I want to thank our leader and also tied to the great work you do here, and thank you and commend you for everything you're doing to better the lives of Flushing residents.
We also have our partners in government here. Always welcome to see my friends out of session. More enjoyable sometimes for most of us, to be back in the District and in communities that we cherish. And so I want to give a shout out to our Senator Cordell Cleare, who's joined us as well, Senator. Let's give her another round of applause.
Councilmember Sandra Ung has joined us. Thank you, Sandra. Great to see you. We also have in our speaking program, Senator Persaud, I want to thank her for joining us as well. Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal has joined us as well. Let's give her another round of applause. Liz Roberts has joined us. Let's get Liz a round of applause. She'll be speaking in a couple minutes. Assemblymember Ron Kim has joined us. Let's give a shout out to him. If I missed any elected officials – I know one, the District Attorney is here too.
I am not going to miss the District Attorney. Melinda Katz, and she's someone who works deeply in the issue that we're addressing here today because the prosecutions of these crimes go through her office and I want to commend her a special shout out for the work that she has done to let people know, not just in Queens, but all over the State of New York, we will enforce the laws and protect particularly the young women and girls who are subjected to human trafficking, but anyone who's subjected to these heinous crimes. So Melinda Katz, thank you for making sure that all of our residents are safe.
Dr. Martin Luther King once said that exploitation of man by man is one of the most degrading and dehumanizing forces in our society. With respect to Dr. King, I'd like to add that the exploitation of women can even be more egregious. And I'm here to talk about one of the most enduring forms through history, truly, forms of that exploitation that's happening right here in New York State.
I’m talking about human trafficking. Forced labor. The buying and selling of people – literally. So let's just call it out what it is. And places like Queens and in this Flushing community itself know about this all too well. The neighborhood we're in today is one of the most highly trafficked in. And that's not a good thing when you talk about human trafficking. It's the epicenter of trafficking for the entire country. Victims are often trafficked from impoverished countries, they have no hope, they think there's at least a chance of a better life. Or they're threatened with violence to themselves, or their family members, or their loved ones.
They're lured with false promises of better jobs and benefits like green cards. And even in our own country, you get teenage girls lured on social media to meet someone at a local coffee shop or a suburban mall. So they're social media predators going after our children, young people. And it's a real crisis. And it's actually – this has infiltrated a large number of modern industries like agriculture and construction, food service, domestic work, and of course, the illicit sex trade.
And while circumstances definitely vary from case to case, what's consistent is the deeply harmful effect it has on the victims. These people lose control of their lives. They have no say. And these, as I mentioned, the most vulnerable victims are the girls and women, racial and ethnic minorities, often LGBTQ members, and of course, migrants.
Traffickers use a large variety of tactics to assert and maintain control over their victims, create fear and dependence on them, and often helps and stops people from leaving their circumstances. Even if there's an offer of help, we were just talking about this before we came out, that there's cases where people are offered to get out of the circumstance, but they're very cognizant that there's someone still out there pulling the strings. And the fear is so ingrained in them, they can't just walk away. It’s truly, truly a travesty.
So, it really has become a form of slavery, people in bondage to others, going on here in New York and in communities like this. That's the reality check that's facing us right now. We can't ignore this. We can't turn our heads and say, “No, that's not happening – human trafficking, that happens elsewhere.” It's happening in our midst. And there are people among us who are victimized.
Think of the different circumstances when a man is forced to work with little or no pay, physically harmed if he tries to escape. That's just modern-day slavery. When a teenage girl is lured away with promises of something else, a better life, and becomes literally imprisoned and traded it out. That's slavery. Or if a person's locked in a sweat shop, a woman can't leave as a domestic worker, that's another form of slavery. So, this has many, many manifestations. You can't just say, “This is the prototypical case of human trafficking,” because it is so diverse.
And it's really a sinister crime that happens in the dark underworld. Rarely is the light of day shined upon it. And the victims are betrayed by criminals who don't treat them like human beings. They see them as a commodity to exploit and make money off of. That's why my Administration is standing up. And I thank people like Kelli Owens and others, part of our great team, for what they're doing.
And Barbara Guinn, the Office of Temporary Disability Services, and Jeanette Moy, and all these other great people for what they do every day. They're focused on this. And we've established an interagency Child Labor Task Force because slavery of our children is happening today. We launched a multi-faceted public education campaign to raise awareness about this, about trafficking and workers’ rights, when the line is crossed.
We have a dedicated Anti-Trafficking Unit within the Department of Labor, because this happens so often in workplaces, and it reinforces our commitment to eradicate this crime. And we've signed critical legislation to provide support and resources to victims, while ensuring that this crime is exposed for all to see.
Today, I'm here to stand here and tell you about some new initiatives to fight human trafficking. First, we're investing $2.3 million in our Response to Human Trafficking program, supporting 11 service providers throughout the state for case management and victim services. First of all, they need some money. Let's give them some more money. And these are tailored to the needs of the individual victim. There's not a one size fits all. They can help long-term assistance, short-term assistance, housing, medical. Just getting them a job. But I think counseling is so important. I remember when my mother, who is a social worker, helped me set up a home for victims of domestic violence.
And these women, many of them had just felt captive in a relationship that should have been loving. A different dynamic, but a loving relationship. And when someone in that situation looks at you, you can see in their eye what they’ve been through – that they don’t feel that they are worthy anymore. And they need counseling to make them know that they have value. They're a human being, just like the rest of us. And so there has to be intensive therapy and counseling to bring them back. And that's another reason we want to invest money into these services. So, we'll continue to do that.
But again, these legislators who are here today, who helped bring forth bills, that's another avenue. We can put money, we can have programing in the administration, but to have partners in the legislature who understand the power that they have to affect change is what we're here to talk about here today. So, I want to thank them as well.
The sponsors of the bills, I'll give a shout out again, but they are also working every day in their respective committees to figure out how we can help stop the traffickers and help the victims. So again, Senator Persaud, I want to thank her for her support, her legislation. Cordell Cleare, Senator Lea Webb as well, Assemblymember Grace Lee, Linda Rosenthal, and Amy Paulin are all the sponsors of the bills that I'll be signing momentarily.
And the first bill extends the state's interagency task force on human trafficking another four years because it was set to expire. So, we know that that's working. Let's keep that going, so that continues uninterrupted. It also adds a new member, the Department of State, that oversees the Office of New Americans. When you think about the fact that this is an Office that welcomes immigrants, it makes sense that they'd actually have a role in this interagency task force as well because they can offer services to people. And so many victims are immigrants. They've been trafficked, they've come from elsewhere, and now we have a vulnerable population, our newly arrived migrants who've come up, who are now living among us, who are very, very vulnerable to this exploitation.
This second bill also calls on our task force to investigate the connection between social media and trafficking. My gosh, even within my own family, seeing young family members, young teenage girls preyed upon, and thank God the family was smart enough to stop it, but a lot of families don't know what's going on. When your kids are spending a lot of time alone, and you think they're studying, they're talking to their friends, and they're responding to someone who's pretending they're a friend, giving them that sense of security.
And, “I can talk to this person, relate to them.” And all of a sudden it's, “Let's go meet at the mall, let's go meet at the local shop, let's meet at the library.” And these kids don't know any better. They’re just children. And these predators are so savvy, they absolutely can convince someone that they're just another young person who's interested, or someone in their school maybe. It's a whole web of lies and distortion and betrayal, but so many kids are wrapped up in this and get caught up. And there are enough cases we never see these children again. Utterly heartbreaking.
So, we'll see those connections and help people understand the vulnerability and exposure of our children, because they're increasingly using technology to exploit victims. And social media has become a great tool in their arsenal. And it's also where they can identify and groom victims. That's another area. But we're not going to just let them do this. We're going to continue to help with our homegrown strategies, and hopefully prevent people from falling victim in the future.
The remaining bills talk about critical information that should be available in public places. Sometimes you see this, but sometimes you don’t. Public restrooms, lactation rooms, MTA and Port Authority stations and facilities, commercial airports. We have a lot of hotels near the airports. I was just talking to the District Attorney about this. A lot of illicit activities going on in those hotels near our airports, when people are coming in or being brought in. And at truck stops. And at New York State rest stops.
You can see that some of what we're trying to talk about behind me. You'll now start seeing these in these very public spaces, transit centers, where people nationally and internationally are coming from. And sometimes the restroom is the only safe place someone can call from if they're trying to escape an individual. And the phone number is right there. Imagine that. That could be the difference between a life in bondage or freedom. That phone number that they can see, now properly available because of the legislation I'm signing here today.
Here in New York, we have no tolerance for this. We're going to continue to break this cycle of suffering so victims can change from victims into survivors. That's what we have to do. That is our goal here so they can tell their stories, they can go out with confidence and courage and maybe their voices can help stop someone else from falling into the same trap that they did. Everyone has a right to be free from fear, and they deserve to have that freedom.
So, I believe, I have such belief in the power of New Yorkers when we do band together, together we can solve this – together, by calling this out, adopting the legislation that I'll be signing momentarily to talk about different ways we can attack this problem. I believe that we can be the state that truly makes a profound difference and stops the crime of trafficking and lifts up and saves our victims. So, that's what we're doing today. This is critically important, and I want to thank everyone who helped make this happen. Again, our sponsors. And with that, I'd like to call up Cordell Cleare to talk about her legislation.