Each September, Blackburn Center participates in the Red Sand Project, a nationwide initiative to raise awareness about human trafficking. The premise of the project is simple: volunteers join together to fill cracks in sidewalks with red sand. This sand represents the millions of people who “fall through the cracks” and become victims of human trafficking.
This year, Blackburn Center and Westmoreland County’s Human Trafficking Task Force will still be sponsoring the Red Sand Project for our local communities — with a twist. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t bring large groups of people together to place the sand. Instead, we are focusing on smaller venues where we can install the red sand without risking anyone’s health or well-being.
We have also reached out to local businesses with a request that they participate in this year’s project. We will provide each business with a shadow box that has packets of red sand inside, along with graphics that explain the Red Sand Project and the issues surrounding human trafficking. These shadow boxes will be displayed in the emergency departments at Excela Westmoreland Hospital and Latrobe Hospital, in addition to multiple other locations.
You can see the sand around Westmoreland County at the following locations, after the dates listed below:
New Kensington Police Department: September 8th (rain date the following week)
Westmoreland County Courthouse: September 12th (rain date: September 19th)
Frick Hospital: September 14th (rain date: September 16)
Greater Things Ministries (date TBD)
Human trafficking remains a major problem throughout the world, in the United States, and right here in Westmoreland County. According to the Polaris Project, each year, 25 million people are trafficked worldwide. Because this crime is notoriously underreported, the true numbers are likely much higher.
While the commercial sex aspect of human trafficking is commonly seen as the prevalent form of this crime, labor trafficking is also far too common. A person may be forced to work in any number of industries, including domestic services, agriculture, hotels/hospitality, beauty salons, and/or restaurants. The link between all types of trafficking is that a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor/services against their will. The exception is for minors and commercial sex. This is always considered human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is used.
Recognizing the problem is the first step to ending human trafficking. Learning about the signs of trafficking is also critical to being able to help potential victims. According to the Department of Homeland Security, issues to consider include:
Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
Has a child stopped attending school?
Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
Is the person often in the company of someone to whom they defer? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
If you suspect that someone may be a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. If you are a victim yourself, you can also reach out to us 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272.