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January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month and although many may not realize it, trafficking happens here in our communities. Human trafficking is nothing less than a form of modern day slavery. Its victims are forced, coerced, defrauded and exploited for sexual purposes, compelled to live in domestic servitude, or perform sweatshop or migrant labor.

It may come as a surprise to many but this scourge is increasing across New York state, including right here in Fulton and Montgomery counties. Using data collected by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, researchers found that between 2001 and 2012, New York was one of four states generating the greatest number of potential reports of human trafficking.

Children and teenagers under 18 years of age are among the most frequent victims of human trafficking in all its forms. Although trafficking situations can often go unreported, there are warning signs or “red flags” that can be identified and/or observed among youth survivors. Some physical indications may include bruises or untreated injuries, explanations that are inconsistent with injuries, tattoos expressing ownership, multiple sexually transmitted diseases and/or abortions and evidence of sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological indicators may include exaggerated fear of consequences, dependence on a “friend” to answer questions, gaps it their “stories,” fearfulness, anxiety and trauma symptoms, suicidal ideation and depression, and disconnection from family and social supports. Other indicators to consider are homelessness and multiple placements within the child welfare system. Family members, friends, boyfriends, acquaintances, employers and “caring strangers” may be among those who traffick children. The average age of initial victimization is 13 years old.

Through raising local awareness, and providing education and advocacy, the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery counties hopes to identify and combat all forms of trafficking in our communities. Through collaboration, shared understanding and dedication we, as a community, can work together to identify survivors in trafficking situations and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our youth. For more information, please contact Melissa Geier at (518) 762-5332, Ext. 108.

MELISSA GEIER

Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery

Johnstown