Our Opinion: Sex trade’s victims in NEPA too often ignored or treated solely as criminals

November 14th, 2016 5:53 pm - updated: 5:55 pm.

You don’t want to believe it.

Human trafficking – essentially a modern-day form of slavery that entraps women and girls for use as prostitutes – sounds so abhorrent, it couldn’t possibly be happening in Pennsylvania, much less our corner of the commonwealth, could it? Regrettably, that’s a naive and wrong view.

At a conference scheduled for Friday in Wilkes-Barre, organizers with the Family Service Association of Northeastern Pennsylvania intend to spur wider awareness of the pervasive problem that Pope Francis has called a crime against humanity.

Advance registration was required for the day-long conference titled “Human Trafficking: From Denial to Engagement.”

Attendees, such as teachers, school social workers, police and other first-line responders, will be urged to watch for indicators that a girl is being exploited. Among the expected presenters: a Chester County assistant district attorney whose session is called “Closed Doors & Open Spaces: Labor Trafficking in Our Midst.”

Globally, the enslavement of people for prostitution and forced labor “has reached epidemic proportions,” according to a column appearing earlier this year on pennlive.com and co-written by state Sen. Daylin Leach and two representatives of the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation.

“Pennsylvania’s ‘keystone’ nature is uniquely attractive to traffickers, as it facilitates transportation to and from the northeastern United States,” the column stated.

Certain state lawmakers and advocates have tried for years to find ways to help victims, who sometimes get caught up in a harsh legal system that treats them only as prostitutes or illegal aliens.

A June 2012 government report titled “Human Trafficking in Pennsylvania: Policy Recommendations and Proposed Legislation” indicated some of the typical victims include “runaway teenage girls who are preyed upon by pimps.” The report also mentioned that schemes are used to entice women and girls here from other nations to work as “waitresses.” Perpetrators use threats, physical violence, drugs and other forms of manipulation to keep the victims under their control, according to the report.

Polaris, a Washington, D.C.-based group billing itself as “a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery,” provides more information about human trafficking at its internet site, polarisproject.org. Victims are encouraged to call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

The Family Service Association’s staffers deserve credit for spotlighting this topic in the Wyoming Valley, where human trafficking deserves wider recognition as a scourge on society. And where a sufficient local response can be coordinated to assist victims.