There is some confusion around New York City’s “trafficking hotline.” But the mess isn’t as dumb and bad as a recent report makes it seem.
Essentially, the hotline was touted by the New York City Police Department as dedicated to helping victims of trafficking. Thing is, it isn’t just dedicated to victims of trafficking. It also takes calls from people trying to reach the city’s Special Victims Division. This unit deals with sex crimes unrelated to sex trafficking. It is also reportedly both understaffed and undertrained.
First Lady Chirlane McCray and Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill introduced the trafficking hotline during a press conference in February last year. “This strategic capability along with the expanded number of professionals will help get resources to young girls and other victims while bringing justice to their traffickers,” McCray said, according to a press release. But as the New York Post reported on Thursday, the phone number might not deliver on its promise to connect victims and their loved ones with a specially trained professional who will help them report a potential sex trafficking crime.
According to the Post, a call to the phone number McCray revealed on a giant poster board during the NYPD Trafficking Hotline press conference did not yield an expert on the issue. “No, this is not the sex-trafficking hotline. How can I help you?” a woman reportedly said when the Post called the number.
When Gizmodo called the same phone number, a woman answered for the “NYPD Hotline.” When I asked which hotline I had reached, she said it was the “NYPD Hotline.” When I asked if it was the trafficking hotline, she said that it was.
However, on the NYPD’s How To Report a Crime page, the department recommends that victims of sexual violence should call its Special Victims Division hotline at the same phone number attached to the Trafficking Hotline—646-610-7272. While the sentiment for a dedicated sex trafficking hotline is a noble one, the execution is seemingly a bit disorganized. A representative from NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information confirmed that the phone number is used for both Special Victims Division and sex trafficking issues. It is crucial not to conflate the two.
The disarray around the hotline comes at a time when lawmakers and government officials are trying to crack down on sex trafficking. It’s an undertaking that has led to the shuttering of classified ads website Backpage and the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). Some experts argue that these efforts will lead to an increase in online censorship and violence against sex workers.
It’s disheartening to see confusion around New York’s trafficking hotline, which is inarguably a valuable tool for victims. Especially as lawmakers continue to conflate sex work with sex trafficking, ruthlessly shutting down websites and passing legislation at the detriment of the former.