Experts: Midstate at-risk for sex trafficking - abc27 WHTM

Experts: Midstate at-risk for sex trafficking

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The film Taken opened people's eyes to the horrific reality of the sex trade.

According to the United Nations, there are 2.5 million trafficking victims across the globe. Every year, trafficking generates $15.5 in the U.S. alone.

What many people may not realize is that human trafficking, in particular the sex trade, happens in the Midstate.

"We know that recently in Lancaster County there was a young lady who ran away, and runaways - the estimate is within 48 hours a runaway is picked up by a predator," state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) said.

Experts said that happens in the Midstate more often than people realize.

"Yes, truck stops, especially in this area because you have the Turnpike, you have 81, you have 78, you have 83, it's a hub for major traffic," said Les Freehling, Chief County Detective at the Cumberland County Criminal Investigation Division.

Carlisle in particular is one of the most at-risk areas in the country. That is because along the Harrisburg Pike alone there are two major highways, three truck stops, and 18 hotels.

Sex trafficking happens across the Midstate. Thousands of trucks come through the Midstate every day on five major highways.

A few years ago, the FBI busted a large trafficking ring at Gable's truck stop, just off of I-81 at Exit 77. According to the attorney general's office, 40 pimps were arrested for prostituting 152 victims.

"There's definitely international victims here," said Krista Hoffman, Criminal Justice Training Specialist for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. "You thought you were coming over to be a waitress. Nope. You're gonna be working in this brothel. You're gonna be working in this strip club. Then it's sex trafficking."

But more commonly, traffickers prey on young, vulnerable children.

"If it's not a positive home life, if there's neglect, chronic abuse, physical/sexual abuse, kids get to a point where they are tired of it," Hoffman said.

When those kids run away, they are the perfect prey for predators.

"Anywhere there's runaways there's a very high probability that you have human trafficking," Hoffman said.

According to PCAR, the average age for a girl to be taken into sex trafficking is 13. For boys it is 11 years old.

"It's 'come on, I'll take care of you. You can stay with me. You don't have to do anything, really, I'm just here to look out for you.' And then, once the minor is there, they're getting food, shelter, it's just very easy then for them to start manipulating the situation and say, 'if you're staying here with us, you're gonna have to earn your keep.' And that really is as easy as it is," Hoffman said.

Once victims are in the sex trade, pimps sell their services, often online on websites like CraigsList and BackPage.

"You can arrange everything online. There's a cell phone you can call. You can have them delivered to your house if you want. But more likely you're going to go out to a hotel or motel and meet them there," Hoffman said.

But sometimes they are stuck in a brothel.

"So it's every 15 minutes the girl has to service a customer and it's just a horrible existence. And the life expectancy for a woman who is held in a brothel is two to three years," Hoffman said.

"It is a cancer in our society that we've allowed. We've turned out back on it," Greenleaf said.


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