Slavery should be a relic of our history books, an extinct practice of ancient societies and antebellum South. Yet, human trafficking not only exists today, it’s thriving—and it’s in our communities.
An estimated 40.3 million individuals are currently victims of labor or sex trafficking. It’s the fastest growing criminal industry, reaching every region of the world, and Pennsylvania is no exception. The commonwealth had the tenth-highest rate of human trafficking reports in the nation, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline since 2007. Many more instances go unreported.
Central Pennsylvania’s prime location and extensive infrastructure breed trafficking conditions.
Highways connecting large cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and New York City allow traffickers to quickly and easily transfer victims throughout the region. Top sex trafficking venues—truck stops, strip clubs, motels, illicit massage parlors, and even restaurants—saturate Central Pennsylvania highways on which thousands of cars travel daily.
More surprising, Pennsylvania’s unsuspecting rural towns have also become trafficking destinations. In particular, small towns with high poverty and drug abuse rates foster more teenage runaways, who are prime targets for traffickers.
This exploitative industry is deadly to its victims and nearly impossible to escape. Only 1% of trafficked victims are rescued, an especially troubling statistic considering those in sex slavery have a tragic seven-year life expectancy.
Luckily, momentum is building to end modern slavery. Here’s what can be done to address the problem in Pennsylvania.
Enhance public awareness and education. Communities can’t address a problem they don’t know exists. Indeed, victims themselves often remain unaware they are being trafficked—particularly child victims. That’s why it’s crucial to build an informed and vigilant community.
While no formula exists for identifying trafficking, knowing these signs can increase reports to authorities. This matters. Most victims are rescued when a community member calls the authorities.
Provide industry-specific trainings. Various industries, from community members, to nonprofits, to law-enforcement, to legislators, have a role to play and should be equipped with the skills to most effectively combat trafficking.
First, engaging with and training law enforcement officials will assist them in better identifying and responding to trafficking. While the recent Safe Harbor Law (Act No. 130 of 2018), requires police officers to undergo training to better identify and respond to child trafficking, more specialized training is necessary to create a permanent, meaningful shift in how law-enforcement responds to reports and survivors.
Likewise, educating lawmakers and government officials can lead to legislative protections and resources for victims. It was a huge victory when Pennsylvania became a Safe Harbor state, but many opportunities remain to enact legislation empowering survivors to escape and build sustainable lives.
To help fight against human trafficking in your community, you can book a speaker or schedule a training for your workplace school, community, or club.
Fill the gap by providing long-term solutions for victims. Once trafficking victims are identified and removed from their exploitation, they require the resources to maintain their freedom.
Establishing a statewide coalition or individuals and organization passionate about ending modern slavery will collaboratively address gaps in trafficking prevention, rescue, and care, ensuring no victim ever feels abandoned.
Coordination, not competition, will lead to success.
To that end, while survivors often access temporary assistance in short-term, emergency care facilities, these programs are ill-equipped to address the specific needs of trafficked individuals. Long-term solutions, including safe houses, will meet these unique needs and help prevent survivors from returning to captivity.
Greenlight Operation is working toward building a restoration home in Cumberland County to provide holistic care, trauma therapy, counseling, and services that will transition these women to independence and lasting freedom.
Central Pennsylvania should not remain a slavery hotspot.
The more community members are aware and involved, law-enforcement and public officials are appropriately trained, and resources exist for long-term, coordinated care, the more victims can escape and rebuild their lives.
If you would like to donate, or financially support Greenlight Operation’s restoration home project, click HERE!