Human trafficking a problem in central Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – According to a new campaign by the YWCA, human trafficking is real and happens right here in central Pennsylvania.

The average age a child is forced into sex slavery is 12 years old.

“The beatings, the torture, the repeated rapes day in and day out,” YWCA Harrisburg vice president Rhonda Hendrickson said. “Nine-thousand to 14,000 rapes are estimated to occur to one victim each and every year.”

Henrickson said the experience causes psychological and physical damage and a life expectancy afterward of seven years.

Harrisburg is a problem area. Thousands of cars pass through central Pennsylvania daily. Pennsylvania State Police are trained to identify victims on the I-81 and I-83 corridors. They learn the right questions to ask passengers, like how they know each other, especially if it’s a car full of young women.

Ninety-percent of victims are groomed and unaware they are victims.

“Traffickers who pose as boyfriends or parents who are pimping out their kids, husbands forcing their wives into commercial exploitation, drug traffickers who are turning someone with a substance abuse problem into victims,” Hendrickson said.

To keep your family safe, YWCA recommends staying social media savvy.

“Just accepting people that you don’t know gives them access to a lot of personal and private information that they can use against you,” said Mary Quinn, YWCA of Harrisburg CEO.

Be involved in your child’s life and ask questions.

“Know who they’re hanging out with and who they’re dating,” Hendrickson said. “If all the sudden they have a new older female friend or older boyfriend, that’s a red flag.”

YWCA says one of the best ways to prevent human trafficking is to be educated.

If you have a school, community or work group interested in learning more about human trafficking, the YWCA of Harrisburg will give free educational seminars. To schedule a seminar, you can call the YWCA at (717) 234-7931.

You can also visit their website or Facebook page.

If you know of a situation that needs immediate assistance, call the human trafficking hotline at 1-800-654-1211.

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