EASTON — In light of January being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Michelle Harding, a member of the Eastern Shore Human Trafficking Task Force, gave a presentation on human trafficking at the Wednesday, Jan. 18, Talbot County Board of Education meeting.
The mission of the organization is to prevent and combat human trafficking (sex and labor exploitation) by encouraging, supporting and promoting awareness and action within specific communities and counties throughout the Eastern Shore.
“Many of you may remember that on July 7, 2010, the atrocity of human trafficking hit very closely to home when two men were arrested for operating a brothel right here in Easton on Dover Street,” Harding said.
Harding said they wanted to dismiss some of the fog around what human trafficking is.
There are two primary categories of human trafficking — labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is the recruitment or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of fraud, force or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude or slavery. Sex trafficking is defined as fraudulently, forcibly or coercively causing another to engage in a commercial sex act. However, if the victim is under the age of 18, merely causing them to engage in a commercial sex act is enough to constitute sex trafficking.
“We understand the importance of equipping community leaders like yourselves with resources to bring authentic impact and change in this area,” Harding said.
Harding said up to 300,000 underage girls in America are being sold for sex each year. The typical age of a trafficking victim sold into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old, and about 15 times a day, a trafficked minor is sold for sex.
“These children are being raped from 60 to 90 times a week,” Harding said.
One of the things they wanted to stress is internet safety because it is where a lot of victims are hunted down and groomed, Harding said.
Also, the traffickers can be anyone who benefit from the commercial exploitation or facilitates the commercial exploitation of another. Harding said they can find their victims on social media, various websites, schools, malls, group homes, youth shelters and more.
Maryland is a hotspot for human trafficking because of popular interstates such as Route 50, Route 13 and Route 15, international airports, casinos, areas of poverty and wealth, and more, she said.
“Labor trafficking is often overlooked, but the Eastern Shore is a unique concern because of the number of immigrants, tourism culture and the seafood industry,” Harding said.
She added that this atrocity is happening locally and listed about 18 instances over the past few years where people were arrested along the Eastern Shore for human trafficking.
With the heroin epidemic growing in this area, human trafficking is growing due to pimps using drugs to control their victims, she said.
For more information about the Eastern Shore Human Trafficking Task Force, visit eshttf.org.