NEWINGTON – Human trafficking is happening here, there and everywhere, but there are ways to prevent it and help victims.
This was the message delivered to 131 people who attended “A Forum on Human Trafficking: Created to be Loved, not Misused” inside St. Mary Church in Newington recently. The event was a collaboration of the Newington Stop the Traffik Committee, Newington Rotary Club and several industry experts working to combat the problem of modern day slavery right here in Connecticut.
The Hartford Archdiocese’s Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry executive director Lynn Campbell led an opening prayer to inspire hope, before a screening of short film “Open Your Eyes.” Then CT’s Anti-Trafficking Response Team Coordinator Yvette Young shared some biting statistics with the crowd.
The State Department of Children and Families (DCF) handled 210 trafficking cases of minors last year alone. Several children were being sold by members of their own family, including a two-year-old. On a national scale, 30 percent of all trafficking cases are interfamilial situations.
“The reality is, human trafficking happens in every single town and corner of the state – suburban, urban and rural,” Young explained. “This is a backyard issue. If you don’t think it’s happening in your town you’re not doing what you can to protect your children and all children.”
Much of the recruitment begins online these days, she pointed out. Traffickers might send “friend” requests to a bunch of youngsters and then attempt to groom those who accept, offering gifts and compliments to gain a semblance of trust. They foster a connection, track the child’s whereabouts or arrange an in-person meeting. Once abducted and recruited into “The Life” a victim is often injected with drugs and forced to commit sex acts for money. Traffickers are familiar with criminal enterprise and know how to manipulate others and control money-making schemes.
“The reality is, you cannot sell a drug or a gun more than once,” Young said. “You can sell a human more than once.”
Strip clubs, private lounges and casinos are places where trafficking happens right out in the open.
“We have kids who are walked through gambling rooms in the casino where the buyers know to look for them, then they choose who they want,” Young said.
The trafficker or “pimp” is alerted to the room where a particular victim is to be sent.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Kurt Siuzdak, of CT’s Cyber Trafficking Unit and Child Exploitation Task Force has seen the impact this life has on young people who fall victim. He was responsible for the conviction of Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer, recently sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in a human trafficking ring that preyed on intellectually-disabled young men.
“These kids are just wiped out,” Siuzdak said at the forum. “The life expectancy of a prostitute is seven years or less. It’s agonizing and permanent.”
Kids from low-income families are most vulnerable to exploitation, according to Siuzdak, who conducts investigations in motels like those on the Turnpike.
“You have a lot of activity in this area,” he said. “A lot of these motels, that’s 20 percent to half of their business, the drugs and prostitution. Even those hotels that are legitimate, it hurts them too.”
Newington Rotary President David Tedeschi is leading efforts by the Stop the Traffik Committee, which installed a billboard on the Turnpike to reach potential victims and raise awareness. The recent forum was the second this year.
“I was pleased with the turnout, although I always hope to reach more people,” Tedeschi said. “We’re looking forward to some other projects we will be doing to continue our journey to combat this heinous crime. The next issue I want to tackle is stopping the demand – holding the johns responsible.”
One way to help is by volunteering with an anti-trafficking organization, such as Amirah New England, which provides recovery resources for victims and is opening a safe house in the Hartford area around Jan. 2020.
“We need volunteers, people like you, to just show up regularly and be a presence in these women’s’ lives,” executive director Stephanie Clark told attendees.
People went home with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. It can be used to report suspicious activity and possible trafficking cases. It’s also a resource for victims.
Dave Annecharico and his wife travelled upstate from East Hampton for the event.
“It was a very informative evening,” Annecharico said afterwards. “I could not believe what the FBI has to endure to do their job. Some segments of our society are so sick and deranged. The loving ministry of women’s home was also very inspirational. I hope to support this cause somehow.”
In the church lobby were volunteers from Love 146, a human rights organization that focuses on survivor care, prevention, professional training and empowerment.
“We would love as many people as possible to learn about the signs of trafficking and find like-minded individuals to be a part of our volunteer team,” Ann Marie Sirotnak said.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn the signs
Red flags that could signal that a child is in a trafficking situation include a controlling romantic partner, poor hygiene, unexplained injuries, behavioral changes, skipping school, presenting new items, tattoos or clothing without explanation.