The FBI called human sex trafficking the most common form of modern-day slavery.
And human sex trafficking happens in the Midstate. The issue is so critical, lawmakers, legislators, and other Midstaters are working to stop the problem from growing.
According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), the average age for a girl to be taken into sex trafficking is 13-years-old. For boys it is 11-years-old.
PCAR is just one of several organizations trying to keep Midstate children safe. The organization joined forces with law enforcement to create the South Central Human Trafficking Response Team.
“They're rescuing victims and offenders are being held accountable. So it's really exciting to see how well it's working,” said Krista Hoffman, criminal justice training specialist for PCAR.
Les Freehling, chief county detective at the Cumberland County Criminal Investigation Division, is part of that team.
“We do the best we can working truck stop details, working hotel/motel details,” Freehling said. “Somebody from Ohio didn't just walk here. Somebody brought them in.”
“It takes a lot more paperwork, a lot more investigation when you start using the Internet to track them down,” said Freehling. “But you're nailing it to a certain person, area.”
But that is only part of the battle. Often times it is the victims who get in trouble; charged with prostitution and other offenses.
“I think for years, everybody looked at it as plain prostitution, with the attitude that they wanna be there. Well it's not true. A lot of them don't wanna be there and they're being forced to be out there,” said Freehling.
“We have to stop treating the victims as perpetrators and treat the person who is the true perpetrator appropriately,” said State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, (R-12th District.)
That is why Greenleaf wrote Senate Bill 75, which would keep victims from being treated as criminals.
“We need to take steps to rehabilitate the individuals. Restore them. Restore them to their families. Restore them to their life. Get them back on their own two feet. Help them to get a job, an education. Try to heal those scars,” said Greenleaf.
Senate Bill 75 would also create harsher penalties for traffickers.
“Traffickers, they like to call themselves pimps. But make no mistake, they are nothing better than a trafficker. You can glamorize them all you want in songs, but if you really listen to the songs, they're really an entire blue print on how to be a trafficker,” Hoffman said.
It is not just lawmakers and law enforcement who are taking a stand. There are several Midstaters doing their part, like Krista Dollman of Mechanicsburg.
“Knowing that there are children that aren't privileged with a safe home and who aren't being treated the way they should, I just began to pray and ask God what I could do about that,” Dollman said.
Dollman co-founded an organization called Change Purse. They sell gently used designer purses. All of the proceeds go toward sex trafficking awareness and outreach. One day, Dollman hopes to build a safe house in the Midstate for trafficking victims.
“I'm certainly not the most powerful person in the world. I'm not the wealthiest and I'm definitely not the most influential or the smartest. But I just, it just began with what can I do?” said Dollman.
Experts said there is a lot Midstaters can do, too.
“The public has to help. Our eyes can't be everywhere all the time,” Freehling said.
Authorities said Midstaters should keep an eye out for something that does not look right; children out of school, massage parlors that are open late and have only male clientele, and young people with visible tattoos or brands.
If you see something suspicious, call the Polaris Project hotline at 1-888-3737-888.
“Don't be embarrassed to call. You're not gonna get in trouble. You're not gonna cause trouble for someone else. Just make the call and we'll be able to get a handle on this,” said Hoffman.
To learn more about human trafficking, check out the following websites: