Local leaders are calling attention to sex trafficking which they say is happening here in the Hudson Valley at "alarming rates."

State Sen. Sue Serino, New York Senate District 41, and the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie recently came together to host an informational forum regarding human sex trafficking with an emphasis on how to keep kids safe on and offline at the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

“Sex trafficking is not just a big city issue, and it’s an important discussion to have here in the Hudson Valley to raise awareness and provide residents with important resources,” Serino said in a press release. “With our youth spending so much time behind a screen, it is important to be aware of the risks the online world presents and educate ourselves on warning signs so we can better protect ourselves and our kids.

Following a New York Post story about sex trafficking in New York, Serino, who represents Dutchess and Putnam counties, announced the introduction of legislation aimed at increasing awareness to prevent victimization and holding perpetrators accountable to more effectively deter sex trafficking crimes.

“Sex trafficking is an epidemic that has flown under the radar for far too long and it’s not just a big city issue. It is happening right here in the Hudson Valley, and at alarming rates,” Serino said. “By failing to properly acknowledge the issue and updating our laws to hold these monsters accountable, we are failing the victims, many of whom are only children."

New York State ranks as one of the worst states for human trafficking along with California, Texas, and Florida in the United States, officials say.

In 2017, the NYPD saved one victim per week while working 265 sex trafficking cases resulting in the arrests of 228 people, according to the New York Post. That total more than doubled the cases from 2016.

In 2008, New York State enacted the Safe Harbour, NY program that creates a more systematic approach to children who have been sexually exploited or trafficked. Since its founding, more than 29 counties have received funding for their own safe harbor initiatives, including Dutchess and Putnam counties, officials say.

Lori Stella, program director of the Safe Harbour Program at the Children's Home of Poughkeepsie and David Garcia, the coordinator of the Dutchess County Task Force Against Human Trafficking were lead presenters at the event with Serino

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share and educate our local community on a topic that affects individuals from all walks of life, in any community, including right here in the Hudson Valley. It is important to me, and the Children’s Home, that we bring awareness to this human rights issue that is affecting more and more children every single day. Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment, and I have dedicated my work to ensuring that each day,” Stella said.

Serino introduced two bills aimed at addressing sex trafficking. One bill would give judges the power to order people convicted of two or more felony sex offenses, including sex trafficking, to serve their sentences back-to-back rather than concurrently. The other bill would direct the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles to establish a sex trafficking awareness and prevention program in conjunction with the Commissioners of Criminal Justice Services and Transportation to educate drivers with commercial motor vehicle licenses on the warning signs of sex trafficking.

More From Hudson Valley Post