HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — January is recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Thursday, state officials asked for the public’s help to spread awareness and to put an end to human trafficking.
Human trafficking is the exploitation of people using force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of commercial sex, forced labor, domestic servitude, and others.
According to the International Labor Organization, there are approximately 28 million victims of human trafficking, globally.
State officials shared some potential warning signs:
- Lack of knowledge of a person’s community or whereabouts;
- Restricted or controlled communication where people cannot speak for themselves;
- People not in control of their own identification documents; or
- Signs of branding or tattooing of a trafficker’s name (often on the neck).
Officials say if you see something, say something. Reporting trafficking is easier than ever before and Pennsylvanians can play a major role in fighting it. According to the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), the commonwealth’s geographic location and interstate system makes it a hot-spot for traffickers.
“In law enforcement, we see a lot of criminal activity associated with a lot of the interstates that run through Pennsylvania and run from city to city. We see it with drug trafficking and unfortunately, we see it with human trafficking as well,” said Lieutenant Adam Reed, Director of the PSP Communications Office. “The Pennsylvania State Police conducts numerous law enforcement training in identifying trafficking cases across the state each year. We also provide civilian training at schools, hospitals and hotels because we cannot do this alone. The public can help police in our mission to fight human trafficking in Pennsylvania by educating themselves on the warning signs and by calling authorities when things don’t seem right,” he added.
“Human trafficking is happening across the world, and unfortunately, right here in Pennsylvania,” said Yassmin Gramian, Secretary of PennDOT. “We’re collaborating at state, national, and local levels to combat this problem and we urge the public to join us in the fight,” she added.
PennDOT was among the first state agencies across the country to educate its employees on human trafficking awareness. Training for their employees was also made available to other department employees, transit agency employees, and is available online under the “Human Trafficking” Media Center at www.penndot.pa.gov.
Other forms of human trafficking, like labor trafficking, are also serious concerns the administration hopes to fight with the public’s assistance.
The United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines labor trafficking as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” Approximately 17.3 million people experience forced labor in private sector industries.
“L&I is committed to working with our partner agencies and law-enforcement professionals to ensure that no child is forced to work or put in a hazardous working condition; that no worker is deprived of their protections under Pennsylvania and federal laws; and that no business is engaged in unlawful labor activities that could negatively affect Pennsylvania workers and other businesses,” said Jennifer Berrier, Secretary of Labor and Industry (L&I). “Some of the common industries that we know that are ripe for labor trafficking include domestic service, the service industry, agriculture, landscaping, construction and manufacturing,” she added.
“The buying and selling of people is just as wrong today as it was hundreds of years ago. Pennsylvania state agencies are grateful for the community partners doing work to combat and prevent human trafficking in our communities across the state. Together, we can stop trafficking in Pennsylvania,” said Suzanne Estrella, the Commonwealth Victim Advocate.
Officials also encourage the public to participate #WearBlueDayPA on January 11 by wearing blue to raise awareness.
The National Human Trafficking hotline (1-888-373-7888) is a 24/7 resource for victims and service providers that also collects data about human trafficking for every state. Resources for victims and survivors are available in Pennsylvania:
- County specific human trafficking services; and
- Pennsylvania Office of Victim Services information portal on Human Trafficking.
The public is urged to report potential human trafficking situations to the national hotline, or the state tip line, 1-888-292-1919. Tips can also be sent via the See something, send something mobile app, which can be found here.