One of the six pillars of Chester County’s Historic Courthouse will shine in blue light on January nights beginning the evening of January 11, 2022—National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The single lighted pillar represents an estimated one in six children who were reported as endangered runaways and were likely victims of sex trafficking (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2019). Internationally, blue signifies sadness for victims and the cold hearts of the people who buy and sell them.
At the first public meeting of 2022, Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowtiz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline proclaimed January as National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month. The Commissioners’ proclamation notes that “recognition should be given to the advocates, social service agencies and counselors who provide care to survivors of these acts of physical and psychological trauma; for law enforcement personnel who work to bring offenders to justice; and modern-day abolitionists who work to prevent new victims.”
The proclamation also highlights the valuable efforts of organizations like the Chester County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and JusticeRain, as well as individuals who collaborate to support survivors as they transition from exploitation and physical and psychological bondage to freedom and self-sufficiency.
Previously as a practicing attorney, Chester County Sheriff Fredda L. Maddox represented runaway children who had been trafficked. “Some of the most vulnerable children are from minority backgrounds—race, ethnicity, LGBTQ or difficult socioeconomic circumstances. They probably won’t present as angels because they are numbing pain and they are scared. But they are victims who need our help,” she said.
According to Carol Metzker – longtime volunteer with local survivors of sex trafficking and community outreach for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office – women and girls often “run” to escape lack of love, hardship and hopelessness. “They run straight into the arms of a person—perhaps someone close to the home or who reached out through social media—promising romance and esteem,” she said. “There is no abduction or screaming—only smiles as they voluntarily get into the car of someone whose promises quickly dissolve and who instead entangles them in exploitation, trauma and psychological chains.
“To help counteract a trafficker’s allure, talk with youth about images that advertisers portray as popular, posts that kids feel compelled to share on social media, and their inherent worth as a person,” added Metzker.
Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan said, “Human trafficking is a despicable crime that harms countless children and adults around the globe. The perpetrators prey on the most vulnerable members of our society because they believe no one will speak up for them. Support for Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month places a spotlight on this horrible crime and reminds everyone how important is it to remain vigilant to help those in crisis.
“Over the past two years, with the collaboration of agencies including the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, New York City Police, and the Fairfax County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, we were able to dismantle two trafficking organizations. The first was a human sex trafficking operation that involved children, and the second was an adult human trafficking that included forced labor. Both resulted in numerous arrests. We will continue to investigate, arrest, and prosecute anyone who traffics another human being.”
During Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, and throughout the year, county residents are encouraged to learn the signs of human trafficking and who to call.
Indicators include: disconnection from family, friends or community relationships; sudden or dramatic personality changes; substance abuse; unexplained wounds, bruising or scars; fear of authority; lacking food, sleep, water, healthcare, personal belongings, stable living arrangements and/or freedom of movement; a teenage girl with a recent older boyfriend, fancy gifts and/or unexplained hotel key card.
Call. To report immediate danger or potential harm to a child, call 9-1-1. For suspected cases or situations about which you’re unsure, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (anonymous and confidential) at 1-888-3737-888 or text 2-3-3-7-3-3 (BeFree).