By Adam Benson
City officials are turning to the Norwich Area Clergy Association to help raise funds to aid the family of a 17-year-old victim of sexual trafficking in New York, The Bulletin has learned.
On Thursday, Lee-Ann Gomes, supervisor of social work at the city’s human services department, wrote to association treasurer Jillian Corbin requesting up to $5,000 that would accompany a $1,000 contribution by Gomes’s office to defray costs related to the case.
Gomes and others with knowledge of the case would not identify the girl, but acknowledged she was one of three young women who police say were forced to provide sexual services from a public housing unit turned brothel in Harlem under the watch of 35-year-old Taye Elleby, who arrested on May 9.
“The teen was a promising senior here in town at a local high school… Our office is doing everything we can to help this family,” Gomes wrote. “They have incurred tremendous financial expense in lost wages, back rent, travel costs to New York for court appearances, etc.”
A New York Police Department spokesman said Monday Elleby has 16 prior arrests stretching back to 1994.
Elleby was arraigned on June 18 in New York Supreme Court Part 52 and pleaded not guilty to two counts of sex trafficking, two counts of second-degree promotion of prostitution and two counts of third-degree promotion of prostitution, according a grand jury indictment released to The Bulletin Tuesday by the New York District Attorney’s Office.
He’s due in court again on July 30.
The indictment accuses Elleby of forcing the Norwich teen “to engage in prostitution activity by means of instilling fear in the person … that if the demand was not complied with, the defendant and another would cause physical injury, serious physical injury and death to a person” between Feb. 12 and May 9.
Gomes’s letter echoes those allegations.
According to her letter, the teen was “held against her will for five and a half months” where she was “raped, beaten, drugged and forced to have relations with men.”
On June 24, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law House Bill 5666, a measure that tightens laws related to the sexual exploitation and trafficking of people.
Among the provisions is increasing the penalty from a class A misdemeanor to a class C felony for people who knowingly patronize prostitutes younger than 18 and allows anybody convicted of prostitution a chance to clear their record if there is proof that person was a victim of trafficking.
State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and a member of the legislative’s judiciary committee that raised the measure, said the law positions Connecticut as a national leader on the issue.
“It’s unfortunately a huge and often silent problem in our state and across the country, and the bill we passed this year is going to do a lot to help change that trend,” Flexer said.
Teresa Younger, executive director of the state’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and chairwoman of its Trafficking in Persons Council, said legislative efforts such as the adoption of HB 5666 is important to increase public awareness of the crime.
“I think this piece of legislation really highlighted and raise the issue with public policy makers. People oftentimes think of human trafficking as an international issue instead of a domestic issue,” Younger said. But this is a very homegrown problem.”
According to the council, 100 human trafficking victims were identified by state agencies between 2008 and 2011 – 82 were children.