January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

For many, the idea that human trafficking occurs in our local community does not seem feasible; we assume it happens only to people in urban areas or to people being transported across national borders. For us to address human trafficking, we must first recognize what it is, acknowledge its existence, and understand its impact. 

What is human trafficking? According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” 

Any minor under 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is also a victim of trafficking, regardless of whether he or she is forced or coerced. Trafficking is a crime of opportunity for those who exploit others. Traffickers use power and access to manipulate, threaten, isolate or make false promises to their victims. 

While human trafficking can happen to anyone, people in vulnerable situations – such as runaway and homeless youth, young people within the social services and juvenile justice systems, and LGBTQ youth who are ostracized by their families are more likely to be targeted by traffickers. 

Examples of sex trafficking in rural communities include youth trading sex for a place to sleep, for drugs, or for anything of value. It includes youth who are manipulated by their romantic partners to exotic dance/strip, and youth pressured to have sex with others in order to provide for their family.

The impact of human trafficking on individuals is profound. In addition to physical and sexual injuries, victims can experience major psychological effects. Survivors may experience post-traumatic stress, depression, reoccurring nightmares, and difficulty in relationships, memory loss, and feelings of hopelessness, shame, guilt and fear. The impact of trauma occurs during and after the survivors’ trafficking experiences, and can affect people throughout their lives.

In 2008, New York State passed the Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act. The Act guarantees that sexually exploited and trafficked youth are treated as child victims and are offered services as such. 

The Tioga County Safe Harbour program seeks to raise awareness in our community about the exploitation and trafficking of youth for sex. They hope to identify and respond to at-risk and trafficked youth, and, ultimately, help prevent sexual exploitation. 

If you would like more information, please contact Tioga County Safe Harbour at (607) 687-8328 or via email to SafeHarbour.tioga@dfa.state.ny.us; or contact A New Hope Center at (607) 687-6866 or via text at (607) 972-1996.

If you believe a youth is in immediate danger, do not intervene, call 911. You can report suspected trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24/7 by calling 1-888-373-7888 or text INFO or HELP to BeFree (233733).

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