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Let’s do all we can to stop human trafficking

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness month. It may come as a surprise to many but this malady is increasingly occurring across New York state, including right here in Fulton and Montgomery counties. Human trafficking is nothing less than a form of modern day slavery. Locally, this may look like youth sleeping with someone for a place to stay, to pay rent or to have food to eat. Children and teenagers [younger than] 18 years of age are among the most frequent victims of human trafficking in all of its forms, the average age of initial victimization being 13-years-old. Family members, friends, girl/boyfriends, acquaintances, employers and “caring strangers” may be among those who traffic youth. Children are groomed and seduced more often by someone they already know and trust rather than by a stranger. One common myth regarding sex trafficking is that traffickers kidnap their victims or otherwise take them by force. The fact, however, is that most child sex traffickers operate by building trust with victims, and manipulating them into sexual exploitation.

Trafficking situations can often go unreported, however 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 in their “stories”, fearfulness, anxiety, paranoia, substance abuse, mistrust, 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.

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.

If you suspect you or someone you know are being trafficked, or for more information on services offered by MHA, please contact Melissa Geier at the Mental Health Association in Fulton and Montgomery Counties at (518) 762-5332, Ext. 108 or email at info@mhafm.org.

MELISSA GEIER

Johnstown

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