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Central Pennsylvania is a hub for human trafficking. What can we do about it?

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

York, Lancaster and Dauphin counties account for more than a third of human-trafficking offenses statewide, according to data compiled by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

Prosecuting such crime, which involves manipulating victims into engaging in sex acts and other types of labor, is difficult because of the secrecy and stigma that surround it.

"It's a real problem in our area," said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County, at a recent roundtable event that included the district attorneys for York and Lancaster counties, Dave Sunday and Heather Adams, as part of a monthlong effort to raise awareness to the issue.

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According to the state data, Lancaster accounted for 30% of offenses — although Smucker noted that most of those emerged from a single investigation. York County accounted for 5% and Dauphin 4% of statewide offenses.

Statewide, involuntary servitude — holding an individual in duress through force, debt coercion or physical constraint — accounted for 48% of human trafficking-related charges. Another 18% involved the recruitment or solicitation of trafficked individuals, while 14% of offenses involved the trafficking of minors.

Nonprofit organizations that work to prevent human trafficking and help victims, such as ZOE International and Camp Hill-based Greenlight Operation, were at the discussion to offer information about how trafficking happens and what the victims go through.

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The target age for victims is as young as 14 years old, Smucker said. Victims are often young girls but can also be boys. Traffickers often use social media to find victims and advertise sexual services, Adams said.

In addition to ongoing work to prevent trafficking and to rescue and help victims, other ways to prevent trafficking were discussed. One such was addressing front businesses — like massage parlors — that traffickers use, Smucker said. Legislation could potentially be crafted to require more inspections of such businesses.

Rep. Lloyd Smucker's roundtable discussion on human trafficking in York on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.

During the discussion, Smucker said he learned that some counties in the state get additional resources from the federal level for overtime that officers who are focusing on trafficking may accrue.

YWCA York is hosting the Red Sand Project from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 28 at Cherry Lane in York City. The project pours red sand into sidewalk cracks to highlight the need to prevent victims of trafficking and abuse from "falling through the cracks."

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The YWCA offers services for victims of human trafficking, including emergency shelter, trauma counseling and intensive care management.

Sand will be poured at Cherry Lane and along West Market Street and Beaver Street. Participants are encouraged to take photos and post them to social media with the hashtags #RedSandProjects and #YWCAYORK.

According to the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Services, anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or suspects that someone else is can use the following existing resources:

  • 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.
  • If you suspect that human trafficking activity is present in your community, report a tip online.
  • Contact the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) at 1-800-692-7445.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.