By Sarah DiNunzio, Assistant Director, A New Hope Center —
As January comes to an end, we have concluded another year of Human Trafficking Awareness Month efforts in Tioga County. Perhaps you’ve noticed a billboard as you drive on a local roadway, or a blue light on display in a local business, school, or place of worship.
On Jan. 11, organizations throughout the County participated in national Wear Blue Day. These efforts, coordinated by Tioga County Safe Harbour, are to show solidarity with survivors of human trafficking and to raise awareness of the issue.
For many, the idea that human trafficking occurs in our local community does not seem feasible; we assume that it is something that only occurs in urban areas or internationally. What many don’t realize is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation is occurring in rural areas and local communities, including 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 to create dependency.
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 to provide for themselves or 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. We offer free and confidential services to all ages and genders.
Contact Tioga County Safe Harbour at (607) 687-8328 or A New Hope Center via text or call at (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 also 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).