BUFFALO, N.Y. — For around a decade, a local woman lived a parent’s worst nightmare of being trapped in the world’s fastest-growing crime — sex trafficking.
She asked to remain anonymous, but told 2 On Your Side she was raped at a young age, and her trafficker took advantage of that.
“This really can happen to anyone who is vulnerable,” said Amy Fleischauer from The International Institute, which works with survivors.
FBI statistics say the woman shouldn’t be alive, because the average person is dead within 7 years of being a prostitute. This young woman is one of the rare success stories, because she was able to escape and turn around her life.
She was one of five girls forced by the same man to work as prostitutes right here in Buffalo. His criminal enterprise stretched from here to New York City; Harrisburg, PA; Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; Atlantic City and Cleveland. His youngest victim was only 15.
The man was very vicious, manipulative and invasive, according to one of his victims.
“Just overall an evil person,” she said.
It’s difficult to quantify how many traffickers are here. The International Institute works with the Western New York Human Trafficking Task Force to collect data on survivors identified and served, but “we absolutely do not believe that that’s indicative of what’s out there,” Fleischauer said.
Last year, that task force identified 96 potential victims of trafficking in this area. Almost all were trafficked for sex, and 60 of the victims were children.
“The majority of cases involving minors involved minors that were born, groomed and trafficked here in Western New York — so Grand Island, Amherst, West Seneca, East Aurora,” Fleischauer said. “And I think that people are very surprised.”
Special Agent Peter Orchard with the Buffalo FBI leads a squad that’s currently investigating more than 100 open cases involving the exploitation of children.
“A pimp really doesn’t care how old they are,” Special Agent Orchard said. “In my opinion, they’re the worst of the worst. They’re just psychopathic killers, and that girl is not a girl. She’s a piece of meat. She’s a product. Just like if you’re selling drugs or anything else, she’s a product.”
The local woman’s trafficker was indicted on federal charges in Buffalo. He eventually pleaded guilty and got 13 years in prison. At his sentencing, the judge said he used “violence, force, intimidation, and psychological control to force women into sexual servitude.”
Believe it or not, Special Agent Orchard has seen far worse.
“A bad guy, but that’s about average that we see some of the stuff that he had done,” Special Agent Orchard said.
Help is available for victims like the local woman who spoke with 2 On Your Side.
The Enrichment Center at P.A.T.H. — People Against Trafficking Humans — offers victims a safe place to get free services, ranging from counseling to clothing and referrals for shelter and medical care.
The International Institute is another non-profit that helps victims.
The local victim takes medication for night terrors and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but for the most part, she’s beginning to live a normal life. She attends Erie Community College with the goal of becoming a mental health and substance abuse counselor.
“If I can just help one person, I feel like my destiny’s fulfilled,” she said.
If you are a victim of trafficking or see something or someone suspicious, you can call the 24/7 National Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888.