Sex traf­fick­ing a se­ri­ous is­sue in Penn­syl­va­nia, US

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE -

Although it may seem like an over­seas is­sue, hu­man traf­fick­ing is not lim­ited to for­eign coun­tries. In 2017, the Na­tional Hu­man Traf­fick­ing Hot­line re­ceived over 26,500 po­ten­tial hu­man traf­fick­ing calls in the United States, 562 of which were from Penn­syl­va­nia.

Sex traf­fick­ing makes up the ma­jor­ity of re­ported cases, and in the wake of the Jef­frey Ep­stein ac­cu­sa­tions it is cru­cial that we treat hu­man sex traf­fick­ing as the se­ri­ous and real do­mes­tic is­sue it is so we can prop­erly serve vic­tims and pre­vent fu­ture in­ci­dents.

At Mis­sion Kids Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter, we have identified more than 25 Mont­gomery County chil­dren who have been vic­tims of sex traf­fick­ing, and we be­lieve there are many more un­ac­counted for in our community.

There are no stan­dard­ized pro­ce­dures in place in Penn­syl­va­nia to re­spond to a sus­pected hu­man traf­fick­ing vic­tim. De­spite the fact that vic­tims and traf­fick­ers of­ten cross county, state and even na­tional lines, there is no uni­form pro­ce­dure for law en­force­ment agen­cies, youth agen­cies, pros­e­cu­tors or child ad­vo­cacy cen­ters to fol­low.

At our

fa­cil­ity in Mont­gomery County, we have served hu­man traf­fick­ing vic­tims orig­i­nally com­ing from as far as Cal­i­for­nia and Gu­atemala, while chil­dren from our own area have been re­cov­ered in states such as

Florida and Delaware. With­out con­sis­tent or sys­tem­atic poli­cies and guide­lines, chil­dren and traf­fick­ers can go un­de­tected while vic­tims who are identified may not re­ceive the proper care they need.

In 2018, Mis­sion Kids Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter was awarded a STOP Grant from the Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mis­sion on Crime and Delin­quency to ad­dress this glar­ing is­sue. The $300,000 grant, run­ning from 2019 to 2021, will al­low Mis­sion Kids CAC, in part­ner­ship with co­op­er­at­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, to de­velop a for­mal, cross-sys­tems collaborat­ive Sex Traf­fick­ing Re­sponse Team in Mont­gomery County to im­prove the trauma re­sponse to adult and mi­nor sex traf­fick­ing vic­tims.

These poli­cies and pro­ce­dures will help of­fi­cials bet­ter rec­og­nize hu­man traf­fick­ing vic­tims and stan­dard­ize re­sponse ser­vices for identified vic­tims. The Sex Traf­fick­ing Re­sponse pro­to­col de­vel­oped will serve as a model that can be repli­cated across Penn­syl­va­nia coun­ties, al­low­ing au­thor­i­ties to ef­fec­tively ad­dress this state and na­tion­wide is­sue.

As part of these ef­forts, a uni­form train­ing reg­i­men for all first re­spon­ders in Mont­gomery County will be de­vel­oped. There will be four train­ing cur­ricu­lums specif­i­cally for mem­bers of law en­force­ment, pros­e­cu­tion, vic­tim ser­vices, and med­i­cal per­son­nel re­gard­ing how to bet­ter iden­tify and re­spond to vic­tim-sur­vivors of sex traf­fick­ing.

At Mis­sion Kids Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter, our goal is to achieve heal­ing and jus­tice for child vic­tims of sex­ual abuse. Hav­ing served nearly 5,000 chil­dren as an or­ga­ni­za­tion to date, we know too well that issues like sex­ual abuse and hu­man traf­fick­ing are preva­lent in our community. All chil­dren are at risk, es­pe­cially those with prior his­to­ries of sex­ual abuse or who have spent time in the child wel­fare and foster care sys­tems. That is why we’re com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing the Sex Traf­fick­ing Re­sponse Team in Mont­gomery County to help iden­tify traf­fick­ing vic­tims and pre­vent fu­ture oc­cur­rences.

The Ep­stein scan­dal sheds light on the fact that sex traf­fick­ing, es­pe­cially of minors, is a le­git­i­mate do­mes­tic is­sue. De­vel­op­ing stan­dard­ized re­sponse pro­to­cols is a cru­cial step to ad­dress this prob­lem, but even more im­por­tant is the need for us as a so­ci­ety to rec­og­nize that hu­man traf­fick­ing isn’t a dis­tant is­sue, but rather one plagu­ing our very own com­mu­ni­ties.

In or­der to solve this prob­lem, we must first ac­knowl­edge its ex­is­tence.

Abbie New­man is the CEO of Mis­sion Kids Child Ad­vo­cacy Cen­ter, a Mont­gomery County or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to achiev­ing heal­ing and jus­tice for vic­tims of child abuse.

Abbie New­man

Ep­stein

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