HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – This week, the Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey held its annual “Zonta Says No to Human Trafficking” Rally at the State Capitol.
The Zonta Club of Harrisburg-Hershey is a chartered club of Zonta International (ZI), a global organization that partners with organizations across the globe to make a difference in the lives of women and girls through service and advocacy, specifically focusing on education and prevention of violence against women and girls.
According to advocates, the human trafficking industry generates more than $32 billion each year and occurs all over the world, including right here in the commonwealth. It can occur in restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, farms, factories, and even in homes as the result of force, fraud, coercion, and other trafficker tactics.
“Human trafficking is a criminal enterprise that operates and hides in plain sight,” said Rhonda Hendrickson, Chief Operations Officer of the YWCA Greater Harrisburg. “Traffickers hone their skills each and every day and their recruitment tactics, they perfect- manipulating, coercing and, yes, even forcing victims into exploitation,” she added.
Advocates believe thousands are trafficked through the keystone state each day but say that it’s difficult to estimate an exact number because too often, trafficking goes unreported.
“Pennsylvania is a pipeline. Pennsylvania is a crossroads,” said State Representative Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland).
Advocates say human traffickers prey on a community’s most vulnerable, like those struggling with housing and food insecurity, substance use disorders, and more.
“They prey on the vulnerable, the vulnerabilities of people in our communities,” said Hendrickson.
Unprecedented challenges resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic left more individuals vulnerable as signs became harder to spot with schools, places of worship, community gatherings, and more – all shut down.
“Nobody saw them. Nobody could see the suffering that was only intensifying during this period of time,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver/Washington/Greene).
Sen. Bartolotta says traffickers aren’t always strangers, sometimes they’re family members, spouses, trusted individuals, or simply anybody who is stealing someone’s freedom for profit. She says everyone can play a role in spotting human trafficking.
“Let’s be vigilant. Let’s spread the word. Let’s talk to our friends and our neighbors and keep our antenna up,” said Bartolotta.
Recently, lawmakers have made strides to provide further protections for human trafficking victims in Pennsylvania.
Act 50 of 2022 updated the Victim Address Confidentiality Act. The law expanded the option to substitute a mailing address from victims of domestic violence and stalking to encompass victims of human trafficking and child abduction as well. Under the law, victims can use a substitute address whenever their residential, work, or school address is required. All first class, certified, and registered mail is received at an alternate location and then forwarded to the participant’s actual address free of charge.
According to Pennsylvania Victim Services, victims of human trafficking may be eligible for financial assistance through the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP). They may be eligible for financial assistance with relocation, counseling, and replacement of some identification documents. More information on eligible benefits can be found here. If you are victim of human trafficking and need help, or suspect that someone else is a victim:
Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.
Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Text the letters “Befree” or the numbers 233733 to reach the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) at 1-800-692-7445.
PennDOT also has additional training and resources to fight human trafficking, which can be found here.