Baltimore’s Human Trafficking Collaborative is hosting an event next month aimed at helping people who are typical targets for being forced into labor and sexual exploitation.
The year-old organization has one major hurdle: The people who are most vulnerable often don’t know it until after they find themselves trapped against their will.
So who are the most frequent targets? Runaway and homeless girls, especially if they are supervised by social service agencies. Members of the LGBTQ community and immigrants are also at high risk of being forced into sex work or manual labor through various methods: abuse, force, psychological coercion or false promises of work, education and romance.
Victims of traffickers can be found working in massage parlors, hotels, strip clubs, spas, sweatshops, construction sites, restaurants and nail salons.
“Sex trafficking is any commercial sex act of a minor or using force (Gorilla Pimp), fraud (Romeo Pimp) or coercion (threatening of family members),” according to the collaborative.
Maryland has one of the highest rates of “domestic human trafficking in the nation,” according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A June 2018 report from the University of Maryland School of Social Work found that more than 440 reports of child sex trafficking were reported from state fiscal year 2014 and 2018 to local departments of social services across Maryland, involving 375 alleged minor victims.
The most cases were reported in Baltimore, followed by the counties of Prince George’s, Baltimore, Washington and Anne Arundel. Approximately 93 percent of victims were female, 87 percent were between the ages of 14-17 and slightly more than half were black, according to the report.
The state sits at the intersection of several international airports, a seaport and interstates and highways that head north, south and west. Other contributing factors include gambling facilities, high wealth, lack of awareness among the public and law enforcement, and weak human trafficking laws.
The city’s collaborative also identified several specific hot spots for traffickers to target victims.
The most specific areas include the intersection of Pulaski Street and Pulaski Highway, North Avenue at St. Paul’s Street and at Greenmount Avenue, in Charles Village and in hotels near Interstate 695 by Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road in Baltimore County. They also include North Avenue near Coppin State University, Park Heights and hotels on Route 40 and Security Boulevard.
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The “resource fair” event scheduled for April 16 between noon and 4 p.m. at War Memorial will attempt to connect those most at risk with housing, health, substance abuse and other services. People who fear for relatives who may be vulnerable also are encouraged to attend to learn how to help.