In the fall of 2017, two men were accused of human trafficking in Lancaster, York, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties in Pensylvania, as well as parts of southern New Jersey. They were charged with trafficking in individuals, corrupt organizations, involuntary servitude, conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver, prostitution, and related offenses.
After two years of arduous preparation–and as a major win against human trafficking in Central Pennsylvania–these men were tried in Lancaster earlier this month. This was only Lancaster’s second trafficking trial. It’s first trial, which led to conviction, was just last year.
Prior to the trial, a detective on the case asked North Star Initiative to help support victims through the trial. As Lancaster does not have a victim advocacy and support team for human trafficking victims, North Star Initiative’s director reached out to Hope Inspire Love and Greenlight Operation. Our three teams came together to coordinate food and drinks for the women testifying throughout the trial. We also worked to make sure that there was an advocate with the women at all times.
It is extremely difficult to convict human traffickers without victim testimonies when there is no one to speak of their crimes and prove that they are forcing, coercing, or fraudulent. These women are so traumatized and ingrained with fear of their traffickers, it is not uncommon for them to refuse to testify or hide. They may be afraid that they will in turn be charged with prostitution if they admit what has been done to them. Even in a closed court (when only the judge, jury, lawyers, and defendants are allowed in the courtroom), victims have to see and face their abusers while giving their testimony. This fear is one of the biggest reasons traffickers often walk free, and is why victim advocates are so important.
We were told since some of the women had worked together, we could potentially expect animosity in the room where the women were waiting. We could expect anger or fear. My experience was very different.
The women, though nervous and afraid, were gracious. They were strong. Through the pain of their experience, they knew their words would keep these men from hurting more women. We would chat about their children, find common ground in favorite TV shows and food, whatever we could do to take their minds off of what they were about to do. When it was time to testify, I went into the courtroom with the women. This gave them a person to focus on as they were being questioned. As I mentioned above, even in a closed courtroom, the defendants (traffickers) are still in the room. Even more nerve-wracking, the men would lean over to whisper to their counsel as the women testified. By being in the room, they knew they had a safe person, someone to look at, someone who was on their side, cheering them on, and someone to walk out with when they were done.
After eight days, the trial ended. Twelve women testified along with officers and detectives who worked the case. Both men were found guilty and will be sentenced in the coming months. It was a major victory for the women who had been tormented for so long. It was a victory for the task force and law enforcement that so diligently worked to see justice served.
As awareness increases and as law enforcement seek more education, we hope that more traffickers are arrested and tried. We hope that victims see that justice can be served, can face their fears, and say “no more.” In the same token, as we continue to increase awareness and educate parents and youth, we hope that the need for these trials disappear.
The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and trainings at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to https://www.greenlightoperation.org/schedule-a-training/. Would you like to help us be part of the solution? Learn more about how we plan to provide victims with a safe, long-term, holistic care, in our Restoration Home Project. If you would like to learn about other ways you can support local anti-human trafficking efforts, check out 5 Easy Ways to Support Greenlight Operation.