A special court in Buffalo City Court has been created to identify and help prostitutes and other victims of human trafficking escape a life of exploitation and violence and become productive members of the community, court officials announced Thursday.
City Judge Amy C. Martoche will preside at the Human Trafficking Intervention Part of City Court.
All prostitution and related offenses will be transferred to the special court to help victims of sex trafficking, who “are recruited into the commercial sex industry by force, fraud or coercion,” according to City Court officials.
The court will seek to provide victims of sex trafficking with a wide range of services from safe haven housing to education, health care, immigration assistance and job training in an effort to give them alternatives to prostitution.
“We are very thankful to those in our area who have provided resources to make this court a reality,” said Chief City Judge Thomas P. Amodeo. He said the special court will provide “needed safety and assistance to at-risk individuals.”
“This will result in a better quality of life for the individual and our community,” he said.
Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Elizabeth Fildes, an expert on the issue, will assist the court.
As part of an effort to reduce the demand for prostitutes, Amodeo said city and county law enforcement officials affirmed their commitment to investigate and bring charges against traffickers and those who patronize prostitutes.
Amodeo said traffickers and the johns who do business with prostitutes will be handled in the regular courts, while the special court will concentrate on identifying and helping people forced into prostitution by the traffickers. He said the special court has been operating for about a month and has so far handled about 15 cases.
Fildes estimated that the court would handle about 200 cases in its first year.
Eva M. Hassett, director of the International Institute of Buffalo, said the institute has helped hundreds of trafficking victims since 2007. “It is difficult to say how many victims there are,” she said. “But as we create an awareness of the problem, I believe we will see more.”
Martoche said that while the court will initially focus on victims of sex trafficking, it also will look into labor trafficking.