by Dan Opdahl
Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes out of your day to consider this important issue.
While most of the big news stories highlight human trafficking that happens in developing countries, the issue is closer to home than a lot of us know. The most prevalent form of human trafficking in the US is sex trafficking, and the Route 15 corridor, which is only miles from our Williamsport Headquarters, is known to be a hotspot for such activity in Central PA.
Check out this quick and useful infographic that defines the problem: https://sharedhope.org/the-problem/what-is-sex-trafficking/
Sex trafficking is often misunderstood as willful prostitution, but the reality is that many who are labeled “prostitutes” are actually “prostituted” by an abuser, commonly referred to as a pimp. This often starts when the victims are young teens, and it is usually someone that they know who starts to use them as an object to be sold for sexual pleasure. This arrangement is maintained through coercive actions (death threats, drug dependence, threats against loved ones, etc). For those trapped in this life, it’s less like a job and more like slavery. This is real, and it happens in our own backyards.
For my wife, Alana and me, this issue is very close to our hearts. For years, she has been looking for ways to help address this problem, and she recently had the opportunity to start a new job as the Program Director for Oasis of Hope, a local advocacy organization and safe home for sex trafficking victims. The survivor stories she has been hearing and reading are terrifying and heartbreaking. As members of our respective communities, we all have a responsibility to do everything we can to stop our neighbors from being bought and sold for their bodies.
What can you do to help?
- Know what to look for: http://www.oasisofhopeusa.org/tips-recognizing-victims/
- Report suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 (you can save this in your phone).
- Have some leftover money you’d set aside for the holidays? Don’t need all of that big check you’re getting from the government in a few months? Consider donating to an organization that helps fight sex trafficking.
- Volunteer, help raise awareness, or help fundraise. If this is an issue you want to be help combat, Alana would be glad to tell you more about how you can get involved with Oasis of Hope.
- Talk to your friends and family and make them aware of this hidden form of slavery plaguing our communities.
Further reading, if you’re interested:
- Local story from Williamsport, PA
- Local story from Milton, PA
- Local story from State College, PA
- Local story from Bloomsburg, PA
- Local story from Pittsburgh, PA
- Local story from Lehigh Valley, PA
- News Story from West Virginia
- Safe House in Corning, NY – Potter’s Hands
- Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline – Pennsylvania – New York – West Virginia
- National News: “Sex Trafficking: The New American Slavery”
- National News: “When Sex Trafficking Goes Unnoticed in America”
Thank you for your time.