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When we think of issues facing people in Buffalo today, human trafficking is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, we hear of this problem so rarely that many of us tend to believe it happens only in distant countries. However, this issue affects many people in our area.

Amy Fleischauer, an employee of the International Institute of Buffalo, spoke at Sacred Heart Academy last Thursday about the types of human trafficking that occur in Western New York.

The United Nations estimates that between 15,000 and 18,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. Traffickers use threat, force and deception to bring their victims into the country, usually telling them that they will have better jobs in America and will be given the proper documentation necessary to stay. Once they arrive, traffickers keep their victims captive by taking any documentation they have, physically abusing them and forcing them into debt.

Buffalo has a surprisingly high amount of trafficking not only because it is close to the border, but also because many agricultural communities surround it. Because farming does not qualify under child labor laws, it is relatively easy for traffickers to force young children into difficult agricultural jobs. While common belief is that nearly all victims of trafficking are young women, and that it usually happens in large cities, this is not the case. In Buffalo, nearly half of all trafficked victims are male, usually between the ages of 18 and 30. Furthermore, there have been many suburban cases of trafficked people forced to work.

Fleischauer says that one of the most important things teenagers wishing to fight this problem can do is become more informed about the issue. Most people are uninformed about cases of trafficking in the suburban areas of Buffalo, which makes it harder for victims to receive help because people find their stories difficult to believe. Simple things such as spreading the word about the issue can go a long way in aiding victims. Additionally, as trafficked people are often in great need of basic items once they escape, food and clothing drives are another way that teens can help.

The more informed people become about human trafficking, the more they can help people who suffer because of it.

Meredith McCaffrey is a sophomore at Sacred Heart Academy.