BETHPAGE, New York (WABC) -- According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Long Island is among the top 20 human trafficking jurisdictions in the country.
At The Safe Center Long Island, a nonprofit that provides cost-free services for victims of abuse, they are combating this growing issue by changing social systems that tolerate and perpetuate abuse across Long Island one case at a time.
"People don't believe it's here that's what the issue is," said Keith Scott, Director of Education. "No matter who we are talking to, the issue is always that's not here, or is that really here? I think as a society this is one thing that no one wants to talk about. It is so uncomfortable to talk about especially with their children. Human trafficking is here and sadly it is not going anywhere any time soon, the best way to eradicate this is to raise awareness about it."
For Emily Waters, who is the Director of Human Trafficking programs at The Safe Center, it is an issue that hits close to home. Waters, was a victim of human trafficking herself when she was 18-years-old and now is giving back to others looking to find an escape from this abuse.
"There wasn't anything like The Safe Center 20 years ago when I got out," said Waters. "Now we are able to help people from the moment they get out of life or the moment they request help. We are able to stay with them the entire time and provide them with any service they would need."
In 2018, the Safe Center's human trafficking department served over 500 youth and adult victims of human trafficking.
The department serves female and male domestic- and foreign-born victims of sex and labor trafficking. The services provided include individual or group therapy provided by licensed clinicians, court advocacy, crisis counseling, community referrals, supportive services, and case management.
"Every town is affected and there really is no stone left unturned here," said Scott. "We've had towns in the most affluent areas in Nassau County also towns in very affluent towns of Suffolk County where they have been young victims of sex trafficking. It goes on in every community; it truly is everywhere there is not just one hub of this."
The Safe Center Long Island is the only agency in Nassau County providing comprehensive services to victims of sex trafficking as well as domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual assault for women, men, children, and elderly -- all under one roof.
"You get so broken down that you either make the choice to die or make the choice to leave," said Waters. "Most people are not able to get out because there aren't services in place that's where the Safe Center can step in that gap and assist from the moment the 911 call is placed."
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Long Island nonprofit provides safe space for abuse victims to guide them towards recovery