Raising awareness on human trafficking

Mental Health Association In Fulton & Montgomery Counties staffers Nancy Deumaga, left, and Cassandra Hazzard, inside booth, call attention to youth human trafficking in a display set up Tuesday at North Main and East Fulton streets in downtown Gloversville. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

GLOVERSVILLE — A stark image of a young woman encased in a see-through box during a chilly day downtown Tuesday brought into focus the plight isolated victims of human trafficking.

The Mental Health Association In Fulton & Montgomery Counties set up the display at East Fulton and North Main streets — outside the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce — building to call attention to human trafficking, especially youth trafficking.

Passersby could see the visible display and those walking by could learn more about the trafficking subject from association staff. Materials to build the booth were donated.

Inside the display, mental health Ombudsman Cassandra Hazzard stood motionless, trapped in the misery of her trafficking situation.

Outside the booth, association Community Educator Nancy Deumaga answered questions.

Human trafficking is defined as “nothing less than a form of modern-day slavery.” Its victims are forced, coerced, defrauded and exploited for sexual purposes, compelled to live in domestic servitude or perform sweatshop or migrant labor. It is estimated nearly 21 million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking worldwide — hundreds of thousands enslaved in the United States alone.

Deumaga said volunteers from local school districts have also assisted the association with getting the word out regarding youth trafficking.

Both women said human trafficking is not just occurring elsewhere.

“I believe greater accessibility is happening locally,” Deumaga said.

The booth on display had various messages such as: “Not For Sale” and “Children Are NOT For Sale.” One of the messages noted a National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: (888) 373-7888 or text: 233733. Another message indicated that 45 percent of trafficked youth are males; and that child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children also has a cyber tip hotline at: www.cybertipline.com; and 1-800-843-5678.

Deumaga said that her agency is able to conduct exhibits like Tuesday’s public booth because of funding. The Mental Health Association In Fulton & Montgomery Counties holds a Safe Harbour Anti-Trafficking Youth Awareness Grant for Fulton County. The grant is funded through the state Office of Children & Family Services and the Fulton County Youth Bureau.

Tuesday’s event was a campaign to raise awareness of youth trafficking in this community, Deumaga said. Through raising local awareness — and providing education and advocacy — she said the association hopes to identify and combat all forms of trafficking in area communities.

Deumaga said there have been “reports” of youth trafficking in this area.

Calls to both Glove Cities police departments went unreturned this morning.

But Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said today that youth trafficking isn’t just a city issue, extending to towns and more rural areas as well.

“I think there is [town activity] since it’s so kind of underground,” the sheriff said. “I know there is an exploitation of kids throughout the community.”

Giardino recounted a local incident in which a male driver was stopped with an unrelated 15-year-old girl in his car. It was later determined through interviews that the girl was being sexually abused, he said.

“Trafficking comes in a lot of different forms,” the sheriff said.

Mental health officials are urging people to “look beneath the surface” to see if youth trafficking is among them. Contact police, don’t take matters into your own hands, officials say.

By Patricia Older