Poughkeepsie … The Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Service (DCFS) hosted approximately 100 local law enforcement officials, first responders and service providers at today’s Human Trafficking Awareness Forum, sharing insights into the dynamics of human trafficking, explaining how to recognize its signs, increasing the ability to respond effectively and discussing prevention strategies.
Today’s event, held at Dutchess Community College’s James & Betty Hall Theatre, was a platform to further collaboration among law enforcement, healthcare professionals, social services and community organizations – all in an effort to combat the collective impact against human trafficking.
“While many may think of trafficking as a crime that only occurs in big cities, tragically it can take place in any community, including our own,” said County Executive Sue Serino, who welcomed attendees to today’s forum. “Dutchess County remains alert and takes proactive measures to promote awareness of the issue and safeguard victims of every age, including children – a crucial duty our county proudly embraces. Efforts like today’s forum raise awareness and can save lives. I thank everyone who attended today, and Dutchess County is eager to continue working with these partners.”
The Dutchess County Task Force Against Human Trafficking is a multi-disciplinary group of professionals, whose mission is to prevent human trafficking by working collaboratively to raise knowledge and awareness, identify potential victims and provide comprehensive trauma-informed services. Among its various initiatives, the task force offers trafficking prevention education programs for young people and offers numerous resources for residents, including resource guides, hotline numbers, service directories and fact sheets differentiating trafficking myths from facts. While the task force directly assists young people up to age 21, cases involving potential victims older than 21 are referred to the Family Services’ Center for Victim Safety and Support, which accepts adult clients and is partially funded by the County.
Defined as the illegal trade of human beings through force, fraud or coercion for various exploitative purposes, human trafficking encompasses a range of crimes, including forced labor, sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. According to the International Labour Organization, more than 40 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking. In 2023, the Dutchess County Dutchess County Task Force Against Human Trafficking received 27 referrals of suspected trafficking locally, from probation officers, youth services providers and runaway and homeless youth shelter staff.
Not all referrals are indicative of a trafficking victim, but rather the youth engaging in risky behaviors that may lead to exploitation. Referrals of suspected trafficking may be based on a young person’s behaviors and what may be considered signs of exploitation, including having no access to their parents or guardians; living apart from other children and in substandard accommodations; being engaged in work that is not suitable for children; and seeming intimidated and behaving differently than other children their age.
Among the specific topics discussed today with attendees were:
Dutchess Community College Instructor of Criminal Justice Matthew Greenstein, a retired Connecticut State Police Detective and Academy Instructor, gave a presentation about the basics of human trafficking. Renán Salgado, Anti-Human Trafficking Director for the Kingston-based Worker Justice Center of New York, detailed the elements of labor trafficking. Attendees also heard a first-person account from a trafficking survivor, who answered their questions about his ordeal.
“Trafficking in every form is a violation of one’s human rights, and it must be addressed and eliminated,” DCFS Commissioner Sabrina Jaar Marzouka said. “We thank those in our community who bravely defend the vulnerable from this mistreatment. The connections made at today’s forum will undoubtedly lead to a safer future for many in Dutchess County.”
Dutchess County is part of New York State’s Safe Harbour Program, which supports counties in developing their capacity to identify youth who have been trafficked, sexually exploited or are at risk of victimization, and to meet identified service needs of these youth.
Residents can report suspected cases of trafficking 24/7 to the County’s Human Trafficking Hotline at 845-452-7272. Additional information about Dutchess County’s efforts to prevent human trafficking, as well as a resource guide for services providers, law enforcement and attorneys to develop a collaborative, trauma-informed response to identifying and responding to cases of suspected human trafficking is available on DCFS’ webpage.