January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. For many, the idea that human trafficking occurs in our local community does not seem feasible; we assume that this is something that only takes place in urban populated areas or internationally like the movie taken. What many don’t realize is that human trafficking is alive and well in rural areas just like Tioga County.
As a community, we cannot address an issue unless we first know what the issue is, and acknowledge its existence. The month of January is meant to spread awareness and preventative knowledge to help our community work towards eliminating human trafficking.
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 adolescents, 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. Traffickers often identify and leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities in order to create dependency.
When considering where human trafficking takes place, it’s important to remember that all humans have various vulnerabilities, which means that trafficking can happen anywhere there is a population, no matter how rural.
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, and those pressured to have sex with others in order to provide for their family. Traffickers can groom and recruit youth to become victims through use of social media on mobile phone apps and online websites.
In our community, the Tioga County Safe Harbour program seeks to raise awareness about the exploitation and trafficking of youth for sex. We identify and respond to at-risk and trafficked youth, and, ultimately, aim to prevent sexual exploitation. This January, we ask the community to join our local campaign as we “Shed Light on Trafficking.”
There are multiple ways you can participate.
Display a blue light in your home, workplace, or place of worship. Tioga County Safe Harbour is distributing free blue lights and information about trafficking to all community members. Lights are available at the Tioga County Health and Human Services Building, the Tioga County Child Advocacy Center, and A New Hope Center.
Contact Tioga County Safe Harbour at (607) 687-8328 or via email at Safe.Harbour.firstname.lastname@example.org; or A New Hope Center via text or phoning (607) 687-6866 to make a referral, to arrange a community presentation, or for more information about our community-wide efforts.
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).