EDITORIAL: Know signs of human trafficking

York Dispatch

For those who believe that human trafficking is a crime with no connection to York, senior crime reporter Liz Scolforo’s reporting over the past year on a prostitution sting at Manchester Township motel that uncovered an alleged human trafficking ring proves otherwise.

More:AG: 2 busted for trafficking women in York, other counties

Officials say it’s up to communities to be aware of the insidiousness and heinousness of human trafficking. The opioid crisis has contributed to the uptick. But each of us has a role to play in identifying victims if we know what to look for.

During the raid by Northern York County Regional Police, one of the women asked an undercover officer for help, saying she was being held against her will, police have said. When she made the statement, she was unaware the man was an undercover officer and thought he was merely another customer, according to police.

More:Rabbi allegedly had sex with Lancaster teen forced into prostitution

Kenneth Crowell, 34, and Barry "Bear" Schiff, 51, are accused of forcing women into prostitution with violence, threats and drug addiction.

One alleged victim told investigators Schiff would get women addicted to opioids, then  cut off their supply as a means of controlling them, according to court documents.

More:AG: Human traffickers face trial in Lancaster County

Another woman told investigators she would bring in $3,000 a day while working for Crowell and Schiff, the presentment states. That woman said she was only able to escape from them when her brother and police came to the hotel, according to court documents.

Both women detailed alleged abuse, including observing Schiff holding a woman’s head in a bucket of water and bleach that contained glass shards.

Each of the accused faces a total of 34 charges, including counts of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, promoting prostitution, running a corrupt organization and criminal conspiracy.

They remain in Lancaster County Prison, Crowell on $1 million bail and Schiff on $750,000 bail, court records state.

More:Ohio trio accused of human trafficking in York County

Since 2003, federal and local law enforcement have cooperated to conduct cross-country operations to save victims — many young children — from sex trafficking as part of the Innocence Lost Initiative. During the most recent operation, Operation Cross Country XI in October 2017, “FBI agents and task force officers staged operations in hotels, casinos and truck stops, as well as on street corners and Internet websites,” according to the national website.

More:Hotline helps human-trafficking victims escape

The youngest victim recovered in the 2017 sweep was 3 months old, and the average age of victims recovered during the operation was 15 years old, according to the FBI. The stories are heartbreaking and include tales of parents or custodians selling children for sex trafficking for as little as a few hundred dollars.

In an opinion essay in The New York Times last month, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote that the FBI leads the U.S. Justice Department’s fight against human trafficking.

 “Those efforts are assisted by teams of prosecutors based at the Justice Department’s headquarters and deployed throughout the country to assist in dismantling gangs and sex traffickers, including the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the Organized Crime and Gang Section,” Rosenstein wrote.

“We are working to help train state, local and tribal law enforcement officers to identify trafficking cases and provide support for victims. That will help them to uncover human trafficking crimes and combat modern forms of slavery,” he added.

Those modern forms of slavery are happening in many communities across the country. The Department of Homeland Security believes everyone can help authorities save victims if they know the warning signs and alert law enforcement if they come in contact with a victim. Never, they remind citizens, approach a suspected trafficker. Leave that to law enforcement.

According to the federal government, trafficking is estimated to generate billions in profit each year, second only to drug-trafficking. We are aware of the scourge of drugs, but trafficking is something that is difficult to contemplate. But millions of men, women and children fall prey to traffickers each year.

In order to recognize and  combat these crimes against humanity, it’s important to come to grips with the fact that it’s happening in communities like ours, where we can’t imagine such horrible human exploitation taking place.