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Is Human Trafficking an Issue in Westmoreland County?

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time for all of us to take steps to end these problems in our communities. We can do this through raising awareness, as well as learning the signs of trafficking so that we can take action should we encounter a potential victim in our lives.

For those of us in Westmoreland County, human trafficking may seem like something that happens elsewhere: in big cities, in other countries, anywhere but here. Yet once we understand how common human trafficking is, it becomes clear that it can happen anywhere — including in Westmoreland County.

Statistics around human trafficking can be difficult to gather. However, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery at any given time, including in forced marriages. Of these 40.3 million people, approximately 16 million are forced to work in the private sector in jobs such as domestic work, construction, agriculture, or in restaurants or hotels. An estimated 4.8 million victims of human trafficking are forced into sex work. The remaining victims are in state-sanction human slavery or in forced marriages.

Human traffickers use a variety of ways to control their victims, including force, fraud, or coercion. In some cases, victims are lied to, threatened, assaulted, or manipulated into working in unacceptable conditions. In other situations, traffickers defraud, trick or physically force victims into a specific type of work, such as commercial sex. In every case of human trafficking, a person’s freedom is stolen for profit.

Since 2007, there have been 3,994 calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline in Pennsylvania, with 1,046 total cases of human trafficking. In 2017, Pennsylvania had the tenth-highest rate of human trafficking reports in the country, with 199 human trafficking cases reported.154 of these reports were for sex trafficking, while 23 were for labor trafficking. An additional 15 were for a trafficking type that was not specified, and 7 were for sex and labor trafficking. The top venue for sex trafficking in Pennsylvania is illicit massage and spa businesses, with 44 cases in 2017.

Spa and massage parlors are often used for a front for sex trafficking, including in Westmoreland County. There are numerous signs that a spa or massage parlor might be a front for sex trafficking. These include:

  • Blacked-out windows;

  • Video camera by the front and back doors;

  • Business is open late -- until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m.;

  • Treatments can be less than $100;

  • Primarily male clientele; and

  • Employees who do not speak a lot of English and rarely leave the premises.

According to the Polaris Project, approximately 9,000 spas and massage parlors in the United States are fronts for human trafficking.

Of course, spas and massage parlors are not the only locations where human trafficking may occur. In Westmoreland County, you may also encounter victims of forced labor trafficking in hotels, restaurants, nail salons, or even in private homes. A lot of sex trafficking in Westmoreland County occurs when people traffic their romantic partners (whether dating or married), and parents trafficking their children. Learning the signs of human trafficking, and be ready to report your suspicions to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or via text at 233733 (text “HELP” or “INFO”).

As always, if you need help or would like more information, Blackburn Center is here for you. We are working to educate the community on human trafficking and offer a range of resources to victims of all types of crimes. Contact us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to a trained crisis counselor today.

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