January Is Human Trafficking Awareness Month
January begins the year with Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Cape Cod PATH (People Against Trafficking Humans), a non-profit under the umbrella of the Cape Cod Foundation, is a task force on the frontline in addressing this pervasive human rights issue.
The reality is that there are more people enslaved today than at any time in history. Across the globe, an estimated 30 million people are being trafficked today, having been forced or coerced into commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. That includes 250,000 children here in the U.S. who are trafficked annually.
Deborah Swiss, a Harwich resident and PATH member for the past four years, said the biggest day in the United States for human trafficking is Super Bowl Sunday. Wherever there is opportunity, traffickers will target the most vulnerable, typically girls age 14 to 17.
“It’s not easy for people to acknowledge that human trafficking exists everywhere around the globe, including in their own back yard,” she said. It is hard to imagine that with all of the natural beauty, the quiet communities scattered across the Cape could harbor a secret like this. Unfortunately, it is resort communities like ours, with many visitors from out of town, that are often the most vulnerable when it comes to trafficking. This explains why PATH’s mission is critical: “To eliminate human trafficking on Cape Cod by raising awareness through education, outreach, and collaboration.” Once the pandemic is behind us, PATH will return to delivering in-person educational programs to schools and community organizations.
Barnstable Police Domestic Violence and Special Victims Detective Katie Parache also volunteers as a member of PATH. “As far as hearing real life stories, they’re rarely made public, and victims have the right to privacy,” she said. “People worry about their kids and think that as long as they are in the house there isn’t any threat.” But, she warned, “access to your child right now is in their hands. It’s their cellphone where predators have an endless supply of potential victims.”
Parache recommends that parents talk to children at a young age. “Teenage is too late. Teach them about what to look for, and talk about healthy versus unhealthy relationships.”
How do you recognize a potential trafficking victim? Janice Hank, chair of Cape Cod PATH, offers this advice: “Keep your eyes open. Know what’s going on with your kids. Two thirds of the people engaged in sex trafficking in the U.S. are born here. It’s all right under our noses.”
Parache emphasized that the average age of entry into sex trafficking in the U.S. is 12 to 14, and although many traffickers have ties to gangs, anyone can be a trafficker, including a child’s own family member. Among the warning signs of children who are being trafficked are being accompanied by a controlling person and not speaking on their own behalf; showing physical marks and being withdrawn, overly tired, depressed and distracted; bragging about making lots of money; having a much older boyfriend.
“Never try to intervene or ‘rescue’ someone yourself,” said Hank. “It is far too dangerous and will put both you and the victim at greater risk.” If you suspect trafficking, contact your local police or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.
Most PATH volunteers have been trained by trafficking experts from the Department of Homeland Security Investigations and all are passionate about their mission.
“PATH helps open people’s eyes,” Hank said. “We’re trying to get out there and educate people as much as possible.” The reward lies in “knowing that you can make a difference and that the average lay person can do something.”
PATH is now partnering with Children’s Cove, Cape Cod’s Child Advocacy Center, which assists children who have suffered sexual abuse or trafficking. Jacob Stapledon, Community education and outreach coordinator for Children’s Cove, explained that the center provides investigative and support services for child victims of in-person trafficking, as well as online cases of “sextortion and sexploitation” on Cape Cod. The center identifies these cases as CSEC, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. In the last year, victims of CSEC aged 7 to 17 have utilized services at Children’s Cove.
PATH is currently working to collect teen resource bags needed by Children’s Cove. Interested members of the community can drop contributions off at the Barnstable Police Station to the attention of Detective Parache. For girls, the bags should include nail polish, body and bath products, stuffed animals, art supplies, blank journals and art books; and for boys, headphones, games, books, art supplies, comic books, anything Star Trek. All items should be new and not include sharp objects. You can learn more about Children’s Cove at www.childrenscove.org/. Information about PATH’s mission and volunteer opportunities are at capecodpath.org/.
One of the bonuses of this period of isolation is that it has given rise to a new type of social activism online. PATH will soon hold its annual vigil for Human Trafficking Awareness Month, this year virtually on Jan. 10. It is open to all. In addition to remarks by Hank and Parache, Kristen Campbell, operations and program director of the national organization In Our Backyard, will speak about her work to combat human trafficking across America.
The public is invited to attend upcoming PATH events which will be broadcast by webinar on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/capecodpath.
Other upcoming events include a virtual candlelight vigil for Human Trafficking Awareness Month on Sunday, Jan. 10 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.; and PATH member Deborah Swiss speaking about her book “The Tin Ticket” on Thursday, Feb. 18, from 7 to 8 p.m. Visit the PATH website for more details.