Press Release


Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz sponsored a Human Trafficking Awareness virtual event via Zoom and livestreamed on Facebook with legal experts and several community service providers to explain the warning signs of sex and labor trafficking. The participants also discussed the unique approaches and resources available to trafficking survivors who reach out for support.

District Attorney Melinda Katz said, “Human trafficking is a scourge targeting the most vulnerable people in our society for exploitation. This Office’s Human Trafficking Bureau – the first of its kind in the city – uses a range of strategies and resources to find the exploiters who engage in sex and labor trafficking. I want people to know that my office and our service providers are here to support them regardless of their immigration status and whether they want to press charges. We want victims to know how our Office can help them get out of the tough situations they are enduring.”

“Each of us can combat this scourge by knowing how to access the resources available. We can’t do any of this on our own,” said District Attorney Katz. “If you are undocumented, we want you to know that documentation status should never bar anyone from asking for help. We want to help you open the door of opportunities.”

During the panel discussion, the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney Jessica Melton, Chief of the Human Trafficking Bureau, defined how sex and labor traffickers operate to exploit their targets for money- making them feel isolated and convincing them no one would intervene in their plightbut the law makes it possible to use a rich array of resources to protect victims and bring those predators to justice.

“Many people are not aware they have been trafficking victims,” said Assistant District Attorney Jessica Melton. “Human Trafficking is the exploitation of a person for sex or labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion. It does not require that anyone travel across state lines or anywhere at all. It may involve physical violence, or it may not. Abusers do use manipulation and fear to prey on their targets. They seek out victims who are perceived to be vulnerable and marginalized because of their age, their race or immigration status and even their mental capacity or past experiences with trauma.”

Continuing, Melton said, “These abusers often convince their targets that they owe them a debt of some kind. They withhold their pay, their documents or subject them to threats or actual violence. Abusers create an inordinate amount of fear. We need to dispel these myths, and to make clear that we have tools available to help anyone who is being exploited restart their lives without fear of reprisal.”

Panelists agreed that countering fear was crucial to persuading victims to come forward. “Non-punishment principles and economic empowerment” are key to disrupting these situations and convincing trafficking victims to accept support services, said Shandra Woworuntu, CEO of Mentari. Woworuntu, a trafficking survivor herself, said that “justice and freedom for all” was a guidepost for her work.

The QDA’s Crime Victims’ Advocates Program provides access to trained social workers and victims’ advocates who support trafficking survivors and crime victims. The program helps survivors create safety plans to successfully get away from their abusers, helping with details like transportation, arranging necessary treatment and obtaining housing with available resources or partnerships with service providers.

The Office of Immigrant Affairs assists in filing applications for T- and U- status immigration visas that allow crime victims legal status if they are undocumented. Carolien Hardenbol, Immigration Specialist with Sanctuary for Families in the Office of the Mayor’s Queens Family Justice Center- a one-stop location for services and support in Queens borough, described their role as service providers.

“Easy access to quality services,” Hardenbol said, “like obtaining work permits, proper identification, visas or asylum are all crucial for supporting survivors.” Without visas, she said, abusers often exert control over their trafficking victims. Other panelists included: Kiran Cheema, Assistant District Attorney in the Queens District Attorney’s Office Human Trafficking Bureau; Yecika Santos, Director of the Queens District Attorney’s Office Crime Victim Advocates Program; Tara-Anne Tiles, Coordinator at the Office of Immigrant Affairs; Roni Piplani, Senior Assistant District Attorney in the Appeals and Special Litigations Division; Susan Jacob, Executive Director of the New York City Family Justice Center; Carolien Hardenbol, Immigration Specialist with Sanctuary for Families in the Office of the Mayor’s Queens Family Justice Center; Nathaly Rubio-Torio, Executive Director of Voces Latinas.

Organizations that provide empowerment, mentorship, educational and prevention services tohelp victims of exploitation exit their dangerous situations and reclaim their lives:
The New York Family Justice Center, Queens can be reached via 718.575.4545
The City’s Gender-Based Violence hotline can be reached via 800.621.4673
Sanctuary for Families can be reached via 212.349.6009
The Empower Center for Survivors can be reached via 646.496.3036 or
Voces Latinas, Inc can be reached via 718.593.4528 or
Mentari USA can be reached via