Howard County police have charged a third person in connection to the alleged human trafficking of a 16-year-old girl, saying the woman helped two other people force the teen into prostitution at Jessup motels.

Jessica Lynn Smitherman, 31, of Laurel, was charged with human trafficking of a minor on June 30 and is being held at the county jail on $35,000 bond.

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Last month, police charged Andre Lamar Russell, 28, of Laurel, with multiple counts of human trafficking, human trafficking conspiracy, assault and drug charges. Heather Lynn Harding, 23, of Woodbine, was also charged with one count of human trafficking conspiracy.

Police said Russell is also being held without bond, while Harding was released on $35,000 bond.

Howard County detectives received a tip May 31 that a man was offering sexual services with a teenage girl for money at motels in the Jessup area. Through investigation, police said they were able to determine that Russell was the man described by the caller.

Fighting human trafficking in Howard County [Editorial]

Fighting trafficking in Howard County will require a sustained commitment on several fronts. In addition to better communication, coordination of services and public-awareness campaigns, Maryland needs updated laws and tougher penalties so police and prosecutors can build better cases for a felony, rather than misdemeanor, convictions.

Smitherman helped coordinate prostitution appointments, police said, posting photos of the teen on a website which officers says is commonly used for prostitution.

On the morning of June 1, police observed Russell with an adult female, later identified as Harding, at a motel in the 7500 block of Assateague Drive in Jessup. Russell and Harding were arrested after detectives responded to the motel and found the 16-year-old victim.

Detectives allege that Russell approached the teen, who had been previously reported as a runaway, and offered her a place to stay. Police said he allegedly then sexually assaulted the girl and forced her to use drugs.

Russell and Harding coordinated prostitution appointments and forced the teen to perform sex acts for money, which Russell would then take for himself, according to police.

Police transported the victim to a child advocacy center to connect her with appropriate housing and other services.

Tougher laws, more services for human trafficking victims sought in Howard County

The $150 billion global sex industry has wound its way into the suburbs of Howard County, from downtrodden motels on Route 1 to a hotel in Columbia.

Detectives are continuing to investigate Russell and Harding to determine if they may be connected to additional victims.

Howard County continues its efforts to combat human trafficking through increases in funding, training and police resources. Investigators are focused on arresting traffickers and offering assistance to victims through housing, treatment, transportation and other help.

Howard County detectives also monitor websites and regularly place ads from the police, warning men not to engage in prostitution or human trafficking in Howard County.

Anyone with information about human trafficking in Howard County should call 410-313-STOP or email HCPDcrimetips@howardcountymd.gov.



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