As we celebrate Women's History month, a terrifying crime is occurring in our community that is a threat to dignity and freedom. Human trafficking is considered the slavery of the 21st century. A local law enforcement official is working to raise awareness of how human trafficking is happening in right here Western New York.
"Women and girls are sold just streets away from here that come from every part of our community," said Erie County Sheriff Deputy Elizabeth Fildes, who routinely speaks out against human trafficking in Buffalo.
For the past seven years, Fildes has devoted her law enforcement expertise to investigating local cases of human trafficking. She is the program director of the Stop Human Trafficking Program.
Fildes has witnessed women, girls and boys sold for sex or labor. One major labor case was taken down in Cheektowaga that existed for over seven years with more than 40 individuals involved in labor trafficking in our community.
"What I will never forget more about that case was the young man that I met, a 14-year-old young man, that actually landed on a grill, hands first, because he was propped up on a pop container because he was working in a kitchen. He was burned severely, but he never went to a hospital," said Fildes.
Those conducting the trafficking are using force, fraud and coercion to their victims.
"A trafficker told me most recently, 'Deputy Fildes it is so easy for me to go out there and get into a girls head and heart then for me to go out there and sell drugs,'" said Fildes.
Human trafficking is the second largest money making crime in the U.S. Drugs are in the number one slot with guns now in the third. Some state lawmakers are working to strengthen current laws to crack down on those committing this crime.
Fildes wears many hats, vetting out the fraud and working with the courts, two recently set up in Buffalo and Rochester dealing with human trafficking. She also has the tedious task of recording all the data and writes many grants to gain dollars to train law enforcement that she says is "urgently" needed.
More than 10,000 law enforcement were trained in 2012 in the community, but last year, just a little more than 4,000 were trained.
Fildes works tirelessly to educate the public. However, funding constraints stopped a major billboard campaign that was launched last year. For now, Fildes is urging citizens to raise their voices against human trafficking.