Sex trafficking a serious issue in Pennsylvania, US
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.
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.