Attempts to escape through a window failed. As punishment, Melanie’s face was burned with cigarettes, a gun held to her head, and she was told that next time she would be killed. “I know where your sister goes to school,” her pimp threatened, “I know where she lives, where she hangs out.”
Melanie was taken to underground strip clubs and raped. “He made me dance and then slept with the men who watched me dance, all before I was 13,” she says.
Between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m., Melanie would be forced to walk the “trail” – roads in the United States known for sex work. One evening, another girl on the track said, “I feel like I saw your missing poster in the stations.”
While Melanie was trafficked just over a decade ago, the pandemic has “absolutely” caused an increase in the number of trafficked people, Ms Leidholdt said.
“It’s the deadly combination of people losing their jobs, growing poverty and many victims taking refuge in their homes with abusers. We have seen a spike in homicides of victims of domestic violence,” Ms Leidholdt said.
During April 1 and September 30, 2020 – a time when New York experienced statewide Covid-19 restrictions – the number of situations in which people needed shelter d The immediate emergency has almost doubled, compared to the same period of the previous year, according to the Polaris traffic assistance service.
A New York Police Department officer confirmed Ms Leidholdt’s statements, saying The telegraph that human trafficking cases and homicides have skyrocketed since the Covid-19 lockdowns and are a “major problem” across the state.
NYPD “failing victims”
But while New York State has “very effective laws” against sex trafficking — a Class B felony that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison — the New York Police Department fails to not to intervene, said Ms. Leidholdt.
“Unfortunately, we find that these laws are not being enforced by the police, or many prosecutors are not enforcing them,” she said. “It has allowed the sex trafficking industry in our city to grow and thrive – especially during the pandemic, when there has been so much poverty, vulnerability, isolation and violence.”
Alexi Meyers, a former Brooklyn human trafficking prosecutor, said a lack of police engagement has led to an increase in pimps trafficking children living in foster homes.
“We have seen an increase in the recruitment of children outside child protection centers [foster care homes] – this is due to a policy change where the NYPD isn’t arresting sex buyers, and there’s an attitude of free markets, and like, outdoor sex markets – where it’s not even hidden anymore on the street,” Ms. Meyers said. .
“A detective told us last year that on Saturday nights the Brooklyn track looks like the Long Island Expressway – a traffic jam of men moving around to buy sex,” she added.