Sept. 29 presentation in Harrisburg to focus on human trafficking

Even the midstate is not immune to the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world – human trafficking.

“We know it is going on in Central Pennsylvania; we just don’t know where it is,” said Barbara Sims, Penn State Harrisburg professor of criminal justice. “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates total annual revenue for world-wide trafficking in persons to be between $5 billion and $9 billion.”

The chair of the college’s undergraduate and graduate Criminal Justice programs, Sims will profile her research into human trafficking in the U.S., the midstate, and throughout the world, during a 12:30 p.m. presentation Tuesday, Sept. 29 in the Gallery Lounge on campus. The presentation is free and open to the public. For information, call 717-948-6322.

Among the topics she plans to cover are the signs to look for, the definition of human trafficking, the obstacles to law enforcement detection and what interventions are available if someone does come forward.

Sims’ investigation into human trafficking issues accelerated when the Greater Harrisburg YWCA contacted her seeking a partner to train law enforcement and victim assistance professionals through a federal grant.

“I was familiar with the subject matter, but researched further in order to be able to undertake the training and discuss the issues,” she said.

Pointing out that Philadelphia has become a point of entry for trafficked individuals -- both in forced labor and “sex work,” Sims stressed that there is a genuine need to educate law enforcement on the issues and how to detect a victim.

“Females may be forced into prostitution, for example, and become both a criminal and a victim at the same time,” she said. “Law enforcement needs to know what signs to look for to determine if a person is a victim of trafficking. These people many times distrust police and may not have proof of identity or cannot converse fluently in English.”

Because it is illegal, the exact extent of trafficking is not clear. However, the U.S. State Department estimates 600,000 to 820,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Up to 70 percent of all trafficked individuals are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors.

"It’s horrific,” Sims said. “It’s modern-day slavery floating under the radar screen.”

The National Human Rights Center in Berkeley, Calif., reports there are about 10,000 forced laborers in the U.S., about one-third of whom are domestic servants and some portion of whom are children.

“Trafficking of children often involves exploitation of parents’ extreme poverty. Parents may sell children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or gain income,” Sims said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports victims are recruited sometimes by force, but usually by fraud. According to the FBI, “Victims are lured away from family and friends by the promise of a better life ... There’s no shortage of victims."

Victims are controlled in many different ways: physically, through beatings, burnings, rapes and starvation; emotionally, through isolation, psychological abuse, drug dependency and threats against family members in home countries; and financially, through debt bondage and threat of deportation.

Last Updated November 18, 2010