Albany County has just launched phase one of an aggressive program targeting human trafficking and local sex trading.
"It is easy to drive by a location and see these people and juts dismiss it as 'Whoops. Oldest profession in the book." District Attorney David Soares expects his new law enforcement initiative will turn the way prostitution has been viewed up until now on its head. That change will come by reaching out to and empowering sex workers, often abused, exploited and drugged into submissiveness. "The focus today is trying to reach the individuals who are caught up in this world who are being held hostage in this world and forced to work in this trade. our message is to them."
Speaking in downtown Albany Tuesday, Soares disclosed that, in addition to streetwalkers and escort services, a great number of illicit local sexual liaisons are arranged through a website, backpage-dot-com.
Soares' office will target sex trafficking by targeting those who solicit sex, posting the names and photographs of people convicted of soliciting prostitutes, on the DA’s homepage, under the moniker "FRONT page." The DA issued a warning: "John, you will no longer be able to come into the courthouse in Albany County, and receive the kind of treatment that you've been receiving in the past. You are part of the problem. You are part of the demand side of this economy that only works if you are trolling through the backpage, looking for services. Well now if you're trolling through backpage, I want you to know that there's going to be a front page, where you will be featured. And that's the purpose of our website today. If you are a John, and you are engaged in this illicit economy, rest assured that everyone else will know that you dare engaged in this illicit economy."
Soares emphasizes that the sex workers are victims, and being a victim of crime can be scary and overwhelming. His office will assist those victims in regaining a sense of control, working in conjunction with government, community-based organizations, and non-profit agencies to ensure that they receive comprehensive supportive services. The DA’s website reaches out to sex workers with a series of explicit videos encouraging them to seek help, the ultimate goal being helping the victims transition from victim to survivor.
Soares says Phase 2 of the crackdown, which will be running by summer's end, will entail more in the way of policy. The program was under development before talk of gambling casinos coming to the region, and any impact they will have on Albany County. "Specifically on public safety and public health. This is in a way addressing an issue that has been ignored for quite some time, but it is also getting in front of a lot of these issues."
Soares notes the area is already attractive to sex entrepreneurs due to its location along the Thruway and Northway, making Albany accessible from New York to Montreal to Boston.
Information and assistance available to victims include:
• Information about Crime Victims Rights
• Crisis intervention and emotional support
• Referrals for financial, medical, counseling, legal, and other community-based services
• Court accompaniment and in-court support
• Safety planning
• Orders of Protection
• Victim Impact Statements
• Property return and intervention with employers or creditors
• Claims for victim compensation
• Applications for inmate status notification
• Post-disposition referral services at state and/or county correctional facilities
• Restitution and reparation processes
If you are a victim and have any questions or concerns, please contact the Crime Victims Unit at (518) 694-8445.