Human trafficking: ‘A continuum of exploitation’

Synagogues host panel discussion on sexual slavery and plight of farm workers

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“He didn’t even allow her during those days to take a shower somewhere, to wash herself …,” said Amanda Burke, chief of the Human Trafficking Unit of the Nassau County District Attorney’s office’s Special Victims Bureau. “Because he didn’t even allow her that small dignity — to be able to clean herself.”

The young woman in question was a 16-year-old who had been sold for sex in Nassau County. Burke told the teen’s story at a panel discussion of human trafficking on Long Island last Sunday, which was co-hosted by Central Synagogue and Congregation Beth Emeth and held at their shared building on DeMott Avenue.

The girl was found in the backseat of a car during a traffic stop, Burke said. “[The police] noticed that every time they asked a question, she would look to the driver of the car rather than just answering the question,” he said. “She looked to the driver for almost permission to answer.”

When the police questioned the man and woman separately, they found out that she had met him at a friend’s house. He used “his masterful manipulation skills” to convince her to have sex with him. “Which was in essence, a test run for him,” Burke said. “Because according to the statement that he later gave to the police, he was trying her out to see if she would be any good to sell. And then once he discovered that in his view, she was, he proceeded to sell her to various men out of the backseat of his Ford Explorer all over different locations in Nassau County.”

According to Burke, the average age at which girls and boys become involved in prostitution is between 12 and 14. Gay and transgender teenagers who were kicked out of their homes are especially at risk for trafficking, as they make up much of the homeless teenager population.

The victims, most often girls, are vulnerable because they do not have stable homes, parents, a support system or self-esteem. A pimp preys on that vulnerability.

“Their pimp is very often the only person who’s providing anything for them,” said Burke. “So even if it comes at a terrible cost to them, they have some sort of shelter. Even if it’s inadequate. Even if it’s a car. They have some sort of food. Even if it’s one meal a day.”

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