Human trafficking a 'huge problem,' expert tells Penn State Fayette audience
A community awareness forum at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, on Monday night shed light on human trafficking — a $32 billion a year worldwide industry that sexually exploits adults and children.
The two-hour forum, hosted by the Crime Victims Center and Fayette County Children and Youth Services, drew attention to human trafficking problems in southwestern Pennsylvania, including Fayette County.
Anne Rackow of the Project to End Human Trafficking and the Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Coalition, and U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton outlined the local, national and worldwide problem to more than 100 people in attendance.
Data provided through the Polaris Project indicated that about 320 tips of human trafficking were received in Pennsylvania last year, and 59 cases were investigated by law enforcement officials, Rackow said. A total of 14,898 calls and tips were made to the national hotline from Jan. 1 through June 30, 2013.
Rackow said an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 youth are at risk each year in the United States, according to statistics provided by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
“Erie is a huge hub for human trafficking,” Rackow said. “That's my hometown, and I really didn't believe that when I first heard about it. But Interstates 90 and 79 are located in Erie, and people are trafficked in cars and trucks on interstate highways across state lines.”
Rackow said the majority of people who become victims of human trafficking know their perpetrators. They are not normally victimized by strangers.
She outlined the definition of human trafficking, discussed why it happens and informed audience members how to recognize victims.
“Human trafficking doesn't always include crossing borders,” Rackow said. “The number-one problem is drug trafficking followed by human trafficking. It is a growing crime because there is an extremely high demand for commercial sex.”
Rackow said the problem is growing in the United States because there is a very low risk of prosecution, and in most cases, human trafficking goes unreported.
“Sometimes, the victims don't want to participate in the court process,” she said.
Some of the conditions that led to human trafficking include high unemployment rates, economic problems and home instability and drug problems for teenagers, according to Rackow.
In some cases, Rackow said teens become victims of human trafficking because they lack basic needs, including food, clothing and shelter, and psychological needs such as love and a sense of belonging.
“If you feel like you don't belong and you have low self-esteem, you are more vulnerable to become a victim,” she said. “In many cases, older men pose as boyfriends at first and then encourage teenage girls to become prostitutes as they then become their pimps.”
Hickton said he visited Fayette County to discuss human trafficking because community awareness is an important part of the solution.
“This is a huge problem that requires an all-hands-on-deck, 360 solution,” Hickton said. “Without this awareness and effort, we wouldn't be able to do this on our own. This is a federal problem. It is not confined to Fayette and Allegheny counties. Trafficking people and depriving them of their civil rights is a huge problem that must be stopped.”
Hickton said one in five women and one in 75 men are raped, according to statistics.
“More than 25 percent of males are younger than 10 years of age when they are raped,” he said. “Children between the ages of 12 and 17 are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. We need to work together to protect our most vulnerable population.”
Hickton said the college years are especially dangerous for young women because 25 percent of them are victims of a rape or attempted rape while they are college students.
“But fewer than 5 percent of the rape cases are actually reported,” he said. “We're also concerned about intimate partner rape and stalking. We have to constantly strive to expand protection to vulnerable populations.”
If anyone suspects that someone is the victim of human trafficking, Rackow said they should not try to assist the victim. Instead, they are encouraged to call the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to provide tips that will be investigated by law enforcement officials and the FBI.
Cindy Ekas is a contributing writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fayette County chop shop operation nets jail time, payment of restitution
- FEMA to review Fayette’s flood plains
- Lynn: DL&V fire department selling tickets for Sportsmen’s Bash
- Upper Tyrone supervisor hopes to mitigate trash dumping problem
- Police hunt for North Union shooter
- Woman killed in Fayette County van-motorcycle collision
- Quarantine lifted for most Fayette dogs
- Circles Connellsville receives $5K from Diocese of Greensburg