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Shining a Light on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation


January is National Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Awareness Month. This year, we're shining a light on the real and tragic dangers that exist right here in our community.




“We were living with cousins but couldn’t stay, my Mom moved out to live with her boyfriend. My sister and I needed a place to live, she is 19, I am 15. My cousin knew a couple who would rent us a room in their house. When we got there, the man said we didn’t have to pay rent for 3 months if we cleaned the house. My sister worked, so after school I would do the dishes and the laundry. He would come home when I was there and bring me gifts... chocolate, hair ties, stuff like that. He told me he loved me and I thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend, so we did things. He asked me to start doing these things for his brother and his friend, he took pictures too. I was embarrassed and so ashamed, but my sister and I had nowhere else to go.”

- Recipient of REACH / Child Advocacy Center Services




Every year across Columbia & Greene counties there are over 100 children just like this that are identified as being at risk for Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. Since 2018, our REACH and Child Advocacy Centers have collaborated with Safe Harbour: NY and The Department of Social Services, to address Human Trafficking and the Sexual Exploitation of children in our community. Since that time, they have provided services and support and worked with children and young adults who meet the criteria of being "at-risk" with many already having been victimized.



What puts a child or young adult at risk?

The reality is that it can happen to anyone, but some people are more vulnerable than others. There are significant risk factors that increase vulnerability including recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the child welfare system and being a runaway or homeless youth. Particularly vulnerable young people often share histories of poverty, family instability, physical and sexual abuse, and trauma. Often, traffickers identify and leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities to entice potential victims and create dependency.


“We are seeing younger and younger children being approached via social media by predators using aliases, attempting to elicit information about the child’s homelife, looking for vulnerabilities and opportunities, and often the victimization occurs over social media when a child is coerced to send explicit images or videos. For many of our child victims, this quickly escalates to threats to provide more images, or to meet in person. But, it is important to understand that the social media victimizations do not always involve threats. Predators are very skilled at presenting a false persona to gain trust and access to these children and young adults.”

- Julianne Baumann, Program Director

MHA of Columbia Greene | REACH & CAC




 


This year, we are participating in the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness campaign designed to educate the public, law enforcement, and other industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond to possible cases.


January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. MHA of Columbia Greene's REACH Center wants your help to create awareness and “Shine A Light” on the real problem of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation that is happening right here. We invite businesses, organizations, and homeowners to display a blue light in their window or porch during the month of January, and to #WearBlue on Wednesday, January 11th in recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Day.



 

As part of the REACH and CAC response, we work with law enforcement, district attorneys, probation, and school districts to increase support, provide training, resources and dispel common myths. We also receive support and work directly with the Office of Children and Family Services.



What are some of the common myths?

One of the most common and prevalent myths is the belief that Human trafficking involves moving, traveling or transporting a person across state or national borders. The fact is human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever. Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their own hometowns, even their own homes. Another common myth is that victims who are trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations/locked in/held against their will. Although this is sometimes the case, more often, those in trafficking situations stay for reasons that are more complicated. Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out - such as transportation or a safe place to live. Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person.

“Sometimes our victims initially come to our attention as someone who is breaking the law, running away from home, misbehaving in school, engaging in risky behaviors. That is why it is so important to be working with law enforcement, schools and probation departments, to increase awareness and recognize these factors as warning signs.”

- Julianne Baumann, Program Director

MHA of Columbia Greene | REACH & CAC




Human trafficking can happen in plain sight, it may not be obvious or easily noticeable and usually involves coercion, force and control, although it is important to note that causing someone under the age of 18 to engage in a commercial sex act, regardless of using force, fraud, or coercion, is human trafficking under U.S. law.



What can you do to help?

Everyone can help stop Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in our community. If you believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or report an emergency to law enforcement by calling 911. Trafficking victims, whether or not U.S. citizens, are eligible for services. Being well informed and knowing the community resources available can make a difference.


The REACH Center and Child Advocacy Center will provide information and training on recognizing and reporting Human Trafficking, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and other forms of child abuse. Victims of these types of crimes have specialized needs. REACH and CAC staff have specialized training to provide on-going support, including legal and medical advocacy, therapy and emergency services. Safety is a priority, so working collaboratively with our community partners to increase resources and supportive services is a priority.


“We are working with our local school districts and youth serving agencies to include human trafficking in curricula and programming so young people in our community learn how to recognize and respond to danger and create a safety plan if they are approached by a predator. It is integral for everyone to understand how to respond to a potential victim and support someone at risk. It can be very difficult to seek help and if a victim does not feel supported or believed, the danger will escalate”.

- Julianne Baumann, Program Director

MHA of Columbia Greene | REACH & CAC





For more information about Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, and to participate in the Blue Campaign, please contact MHA of Columbia Greene's REACH & Child Advocacy Centers at 518.943.4482 or 518.697.3320.



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