Too often, human trafficking is viewed as something that happens elsewhere – not in small town Western Pennsylvania. It also is frequently sensationalized, with breathless stories about children, teens, and women being kidnapped from a Target parking lot to be sold into commercial sex work (something that could happen in theory, but is exceptionally rare). The reality is that human trafficking happens everywhere, including right here in Westmoreland County. In the vast majority of cases, human trafficking involves the use of psychological means – instead of force – to manipulate victims. It also isn’t limited to sex trafficking; labor trafficking is also common in the United States.
In September, Blackburn Center participated in a number of events that were designed to raise awareness about human trafficking – including the fact that it can and does happen in Westmoreland County. On September 5, Blackburn Center hosted a panel discussion: Unveiling the Hidden Crisis: Human Trafficking in Westmoreland County. It featured a panel of experts including:
Jason Ware, a member of the Westmoreland County Human Trafficking Task Force and an employee of the Westmoreland County Children’s Bureau
Tabitha Ceryak, the anti-human trafficking divisional director for the Light Project at the Salvation Army
Annalisa Gibbs, the founder and executive director of a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, Eden’s Farm, that is dedicated to providing resources and support to victims and survivors of trafficking
Sister Mary Norbert, a Sister of Charity and a member of the Westmoreland County Human Trafficking Task Force
Ann Lewis, an employee of A Child’s Place, a child advocacy center, and a member of the Human Trafficking Training Team. Ms. Lewis is also an executive board member of the Beaver County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and is active in human trafficking task forces in Washington, Fayette, and Westmoreland Counties.
The experts discussed a range of topics related to human trafficking in southwestern Pennsylvania, including how it most often involves a vulnerable individual being exploited by a family member, romantic partner, friend, or loved one. Blackburn Center provided information on the services and supports available to victims and survivors of human trafficking in Westmoreland County.
Blackburn Center also worked with the Westmoreland County Human Trafficking Task Force to host The Red Sand Project, an art installation that is designed to raise awareness about human trafficking. Participants are asked to place red sand in cracks of sidewalks. Each grain of sand represents one of the millions of victims of human trafficking that have fallen through the cracks of society and have gone unnoticed. Numerous businesses, educational institutions, hospitals, and others joined us, including students from Seton Hill University, Mount Pleasant High School, and Hempfield High School.
Through the Red Sand Project, we placed – or will place - sand at the following locations:
Aroma Joe’s- 9/6- 9:00 AM
Delmont Library- 9/6- 1:00 PM
Excela Health Westmoreland- 9/6- 4:00 PM
Excela Health Latrobe- 9/7- 9:00 AM
Excela Health Frick- 9/7- 4:00 PM
Westmoreland Courthouse- 9/9- 9:00 AM
Port Transit Authority- 9/9- 10:30 AM
Donal Plaza- 9/10- 10:00 AM
Saint Clair Park- 9/10- 10:30 AM
Seton Hill University- 9/12- 11:00 AM
Rostraver Library- 9/14- 11:45 AM
New Florence Library- 9/18- 1:00 PM
WCCC New Kensington- 9/21- 11:00 AM
Bad Rabbit Café- 9/22- 3:00 PM
Monessen Library- 9/25- 11:00 AM
You can view pictures of our installations on the Westmoreland Human Trafficking Task Force’s Facebook page, or in the gallery below. We appreciate everyone who participated!
Finally, in September, the Westmoreland County Courthouse was lit up red to raise awareness for human trafficking.
At Blackburn Center, we are committed to raising awareness about human trafficking and supporting victims and survivors of this crime and other types of violence and abuse. If you need help, our hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available), and is free of charge and can be anonymous.