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January is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Since 2010, January has been recognized as a national month for promoting community awareness and prevention efforts on human trafficking. Human trafficking includes any use of fraud, force or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will in exchange for anything of value.

Human trafficking is also associated with other forms of violence in the community. Crimes related to sex trafficking, labor trafficking, survival sex, and gang activity are connected, and often run just below the surface in communities.

The general public often believes that trafficking is limited to international transportation of victims for the purpose of labor or sex. However, domestic trafficking (trafficking that happens locally, or between states) is also very common.

Traffickers can include family members, parents, caregivers, intimate partners, friends or strangers. Most traffickers have or create a relationship with their target. This helps to facilitate the grooming process. Common grooming strategies include meeting basic needs, isolating the potential victim from friends or family, or taking over control of housing, documentation, or identification papers.

While anyone could potentially be targeted by a trafficker, there are some general vulnerabilities that can make someone more susceptible to being trafficked. Some common trafficking-related factors include: people experiencing homelessness, or runaway youth; immigrant/migrant status; people struggling with substance use; past experience with victimization; or LGBTQI+ identity.

In Schuylkill County, the local STOP Team addresses crimes of trafficking and works collaboratively to develop response protocols and train first responders. The team includes victim service organizations like SARCC and SWIC, the District Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement officials, medical providers from St. Luke’s/Geisinger and Lehigh Valley Health Network, and several other legal and social service agencies.

The group recently applied for and was accepted into the Futures Without Violence Human Trafficking Capacity Building Institute and hopes to use this opportunity to build local coordinated response for human trafficking identification, intervention, and prevention.

To learn more about trafficking, get help for a potential trafficking case, or to connect with a counselor or 24-hour support, community members can contact SARCC at 570-628-2965. Stefanie Wenrich is the Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate at SARCC and provides community education on these topics.