It calls for more training to recognize the problem, and provide resources to victims.
Frederick, Md (KM) There needs to be more of an awareness of the problem of human trafficking in the area, and more services for the victims who are rescued from that way of life. Those are some of the conclusions of a report released on Tuesday by the Frederick County Human Trafficking Task Force.
The task force report says human trafficking, which consists of sex trafficking and labor trafficking, is a multi-billion-dollar, market driven industry. Maryland is reported to be one of the ten top states for human trafficking, with Frederick County prime for such activity. But operators in this business often keep a low profile.
“The commonality in all of it is the ability of traffickers to exploit vulnerabilities, ” says Pam Holtzinger, a co-chair of the panel and the Coordinator of Forensic Nurse Services at Frederick Memorial Hospital. “And that’s real important because that’s where we focused a lot of our effort to try and understand those vulnerabilities and how we as Frederick folks are exposed to this because it happens everywhere. It is not unique to anyone in particular.”
According to map included in the report, much of the human trafficking activity takes place in the Baltimore and Washington DC areas, but there has been some detected in the Frederick and Hagerstown areas.
Co-chair Nina Carr is an Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator at Heartly House. “Some of those statistics refer to the high school drop out rate, LBTQ students, homeless individuals, homeless students who are particularly vulnerable in our county,” she says.
Part of gathering information for this report involved sending out a questionnaire to law enforcement agencies, the medical and legal communities and human service agencies. Task Force member Barbara Fink, a Community Health Services Nurse with the Frederick County Health Department, says 8.1% of the respondents said they screened their clients for human trafficking, and just over 12% said said they tracked data on human trafficking victims they assist. “A lack of awareness and education was reported by the respondents as a primary reason for not screening,” she said. “Although the survey comments indicated that they were very interested and they would be very willing to have further training>’
Frederick Police Chief Ed Hargis, a Task Force member, said more training is needed for law enforcement, the medical community, social services, education and other disciplines so they can recognize victims of human trafficking, and help steer them toward services. He says it doesn’t have to be expensive. “We’re not requesting any type of mandated training. We’re providing the resources where you can go. This information is readily available on the internet, Homeland Security, Polaris Project. They all have training. You can go to those sites and actually log on to which type of discipline you’re looking at and you can build an in-house training program at virtually no cost,” he says.
Lindsay Carpenter, a Task Force member and Assistant State’s Attorney, says a collaborative approach is needed among parties involved to tackle this problem. “We thought that as a task force that one of the best ways to insure that is continuing to happen is recommending a multi-disciplinary response team,” she said. “Those individuals would meet and talk about case discussion, talk about what services we’re using, what are working, where those gap still are, and just continue this discussion regarding this collaborative approach and what we need to provide to these victims,” she said. Carpenter said the State’s Attorney’s Office is willing to take the lead on this.
The Task Force report also proposed some legislation, including mandatory human trafficking identification training for lodging establishment employees; a bodyworks license for those companies employing providers who are not licensed by the state (such as massage parlors, tattoo and piercing centers); and legislation to establish penalties for landlords and tenants who knowingly allow human trafficking to take place on their properties; and Survivor Services Fund to assist victims. The money would come from assets seized from human traffickers. “If we know that there are people who have accumulated enormous amounts of wealth and goods as a result of their human trafficking activities, how can we take the gains from their illicit activities and turn it to benefit the victims and the survivors of human trafficking,”: says Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor, whose a member of the Task Force.
Before adjourning, the Council voted to bring back a bill introduced by County Executive Jan Gardner which covers Developers Rights and Responsibilities Agreements. The passing motion was made by Councilman Tony Chmelik, who originally tabled the bill. Chmelik was joined by Colleagues Bud Otis, MC Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald to bring it back. Councilman Billy Shreve abstained.
The bill would restrict DRRA’s to 1500 homes or more, and would prohibit the freezing of some fees. These agreements would last for no more than 10 years, not 25. Gardner has criticized the last Board of County Commissioners for negotiating DRRA’s which locked the county for 25 years.
The motion to un-table the bill brings it back for a public hearing. No date has been set for that.
By Kevin McManus