County Council Hears Presentation On Human Trafficking

Members were told it’s going on in Frederick County.

Frederick, Md. (KM)  The issue of human trafficking came before the Frederick County Council on Tuesday. A group of seven presenters told elected officials it’s a local problem, and not just confined to large cities like Washington and Baltimore.

Human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, is not what it once was. “There’s no red light district. They don’t walk the streets. You go on line, basically and, for all intense and purposes and to be frank, you basically order on line what you want,” says Sergeant Andrew Alcorn with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Frederick Police Department. He says it’s a regional problem and is being addressed at all levels.

Sergeant Alcorn says there have been a couple of cases in Frederick. A few years ago, he says a patrol officer was called to an apartment where 15 to 20 Chinese immigrants were being housed. They were being placed in a van and dropped off at several restaurants in the city, and then returned home in the van. Alcorn said there are two active human trafficking cases under investigation presently, one in the city and one in the county. He said he could not talk about them at the present time.

Frederick Police Chief Ed Hargis said human trafficking is a profitable criminal enterprise. “It’s estimated that 21-million people worldwide are being held right now, 4.5-million just in the sex trade business alone. It’s generates billions  of dollars. It’s the second criminal enterprise only to drug trafficking. So that’s how important it is,” he says.

Part of Tuesday’s presentation included information on the Blue Campaign being conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security which works to end human trafficking. In addition to sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude are also part of the human trafficking trade, according to DHS. The materials encouraged citizens to learn the signs of human trafficking and report it to local law enforcement.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, it received 294 calls about human trafficking in 2016, and there were 66 human trafficking cases in Maryland this year.

But human trafficking is not always easy to recognize. “This system is made to fall under the radar. Their success depends on it. So they’re not coming in and saying ‘I’m a human trafficking victim,'” said Pam Holtzinger, the coordinator of forensic nursing at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

She also said the FMH staff prides itself on recognizing multi-system trauma, but that wasn’t always the case with human trafficking. “What we realized is that we weren’t equipped necessarily to know this was happening,” says Holtzinger. “Once we started to realize that it was real and it was happening, we started to look for signs and symptoms.”

Chief Hargis said police also need to recognize the signs of human trafficking. “We have to able to ask the right questions. You have to be able to build a rapport with the victim. And you have to be able to make sure that the individual remains safe and secure because that’s the only way you’re going to get a reliable witness,” he said.

Nina Carr, an outreach coordinator with Heartly House in Frederick, says human trafficking comes in many forms. “We’ve seen pimp control; familial trafficking;  drug-related; chronic runaways;  gang-related trafficking; trafficking by an intimate partner. So it looks a lot of different ways, and we’ve seen all of it,” she says.

The presenters asked the Council to form a task force to study the issue, and come up with recommendations that encompass law enforcement, and health and social services. “It’s important for people to see that their county is taking care of them. This is something that’s  happening to people who live here; who aren’t just transplants or travel down the road for this to happen. This is something that’s happening to Frederick County residents,” says Carr.

“It’s a real tragedy because these victims are scarred for the rest of their life,” said Council President Bud Otis. “I think that as a community we need to come together and identity them, protect them,  provide for them and help them get back on their feet.”