“How about we pay attention for this? This is actually happening; it’s every day and it’s happening right here.”
That was the message about human trafficking relayed by an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the Lancaster County Crime Prevention Task Force’s annual summit – a day of workshops focused on raising public awareness of trending criminal activity and how to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan opened the day by opening eyes to the evolving prostitution industry, which now so often involves targeted recruitment of children to perform sex acts for money.
The public bias and perception toward prostitution must change, Morgan urged a crowd of about 175 people – professionals, law-enforcement officials, and residents. Traffickers recruit children to work in the industry; the majority of prostitutes are not doing what they do by choice, Morgan said.
And they are not undocumented immigrants.
“They are in our schools; they are our neighbors,” Morgan said of the recruited victims from her cases, 95 percent of them born and raised in this area.
Morgan asked the crowd a series of questions, which she then answered with jarring trend-facts she’s compiled during her work prosecuting cases in the greater Philadelphia area, which includes Lancaster County.
What is the average age a trafficking victim is recruited to work?
“14 – that’s ninth grade,” Morgan said, based on information provided by her victims. Just imagine how susceptible that age group is to traffickers, considering body insecurity issues common with adolescents.
Where do traffickers recruit their ‘workers’?
On the internet, outside schools, at the mall and public transit stations are common because they often lack parents watching over their kids.
What do the typical customers look like?
- Males in their 30s
- About half are married
- Majority are high school graduates; about a quarter are college graduates
- 91 percent hold a job
A very common myth, Morgan said, is that prostitutes make a lot of money and that is why they do what they do.
Not true, Morgan said. The trafficker gets all or most of the proceeds; the victim is paid in drugs. In only two of her cases did the victim keep the money from “Johns,” or customers.
“The vast majority of adult victims” from my cases “are actively addicted to heroin or cocaine,” Morgan told the crowd.
So, what can we all do about it?
Look for the warning signs in a child – e.g. he/she starts doing poorly in school, he/she suddenly has a cellphone (provided by the trafficker).
Law-enforcement is “playing catch-up” considering the countless online forums and recruiting opportunities for traffickers, Morgan said, so public awareness and vigilance will go a long way.
In Lancaster County, planning is ongoing for an anti-trafficking task force, which would consist of a team of law-enforcement officials, social services, health professionals and community support groups.
The District Attorney’s Office recently applied for a state grant that would provide funding to get the task force up and running.
Other workshop topics at the March 29 summit included:
- “Upstander” and bystander roles in instances of bullying, dating violence, sexual assault, and other situations
- Recognizing and responding to domestic violence
- Sex assault trauma on school campuses
- Financial security for older residents
The event was co-sponsored by Lancaster County IU13 which provided their spacious facility.
Lancaster County Crime Prevention Task Force is a collaboration of offices and agencies across the county. For more information on the CPTF, visit: http://bit.ly/2WZiPWC
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; email@example.com; Twitter: @BrettHambright