CENTREVILLE — Amid nearly 50 social workers, medical professionals and first responders, For All Seasons Behavioral Health and Rape Crisis Center held a training Monday, Jan. 13, on spotting the signs of human trafficking.
Leading the training was Katherine Petzold, anti-human trafficking program coordinator for the center, and Cara Rose, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. Along with recognizing the behavior of someone who is being trafficked, For All Seasons also broke some common misconceptions of the epidemic.
“This issue does really impact our communities and it’s exciting that our awareness is growing,” Petzold said. “This is a complex issue, and it is the beginning of a process. I arrived at this issue by working at Polaris in Washington, D.C., which is an anti-trafficking organization and then I worked at the National Human Trafficking Hotline.”
One misconception is that only foreign nationals or immigrants are targets. According to Petzold, victims of the crime can come from all walks of life and economic backgrounds and reasons as to why they become trafficked can range from labor needs to prostitution.
Also dispelled was the notion that trafficking implies transporting a victim across borders. Control mechanisms by assailants may be used to keep victims in unfamiliar places even if it does not require smuggling.
During the session, participants were trained in the legal distinction of a victim under the age of 18 as they are automatically considered victims of potential sex trafficking. In some cases, the responsible party may be a boyfriend, family member, gang member, or someone offering them money.
While many associate human trafficking with physical coercion, perpetrators use other means of control. They include blackmail, retaining important legal documents, debt bondage, psychological manipulation, deportation and threats against the family of the victim.
Data from just four years ago by the International Labour Organization estimates that 24.9 million people, 64 percent of the entire total of human trafficking victims, are taken for forced labor. Sex trafficking, followed by state-imposed trafficking, round out the other main reasons behind the crime.
“Over 50 percent of human trafficking happening in the country involves U.S. nationals and someone can be trafficked out of their own home. We make sure to include labor and adult sex trafficking because if we don’t, we cut out many people who are affected,” said Petzold.
Given its central location to many large cities and busy traffic routes, Maryland is considered to have one of the highest domestic human trafficking rates in the nation.
Petzold noted the state trafficking hotline in 2007 had already received 3,729 calls with 884 callers describing high indicators of the crime and an additional 948 describing moderate indicators.
Past instances of trafficking include a case in Easton in summer 2019, a massage parlor located in Cambridge also last year, and three indicted on such charges in Federalsburg in August 2019. Salisbury also saw a high school guidance counselor indicted on charges in January of last year, and another male trafficking two 15-year-old girls in April 2018.
Ocean City, Denton, and Kent saw 16 individuals charged with human trafficking in 2017 alone.
Among the most vulnerable populations are victims of past abuse, the financially unstable, runaways and homeless youth, and foreign nationals.
Rose added that breaking away from a trafficker is also challenging given the amount of control they often have over their victim. For that reason, law enforcement becomes aware of a victim through numerous arrests.
“Our agency is Homeland Security Investigations and we’re tasked with investigating all sorts of criminal violations,” Rose said. “I’m very glad that people are here because this is what we consider training the trainers. When you get this information, hopefully these professionals can go out and spread the information. Until you really start working these cases, you see the various trafficking scenarios.”
The National Survivor Network estimates that 91 percent of victims will eventually be arrested, with 40 percent being arrested nine or more times. Prostitution, solicitation, drug possession, and drug dealing are the most common charges filed.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is available at 1-888-373-7888, by texting HELP or INFO to 233733.