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The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached, or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Baltimore Magazine. The quiet year-old from Prince William County, Virginia, chafed under the strict control of her single mom. She had lived ly in Maryland and had friends in Washington, D. Melvin Douglas approached her as a friend, too—a potential boyfriend even.
The third time that the year-old Douglas spotted her, they talked more. He offered to buy her a meal and a place to stay. He paid to get her nails and hair done, made her feel special, and told her that he cared about her. She was still missing. He asked the Prince William Police Department if they minded if he looked into the case. Heid dialed the and a young female voice answered. He asked if she had any time available. He asked where she was. At a hotel? Heid called again when he got to College Park. With FBI agents hidden in position at the hotel, Heid, wearing a hoodie and jeans and sitting in an unmarked car, watched a man and another woman leave her room.
She denied everything, including her real name. She became polite. She became a kid again. The grooming process had lasted about three months, Heid continues. You owe me. She had one tattoo—Melvin, the name of her pimp. He took all the money she earned. Later, he told her the only way she was getting out was in a body bag. That Heid was able to locate and recover a year-old runaway and trafficking survivor so quickly is unusual. More unusual is that law enforcement officials elicited a guilty plea in federal court from Douglas.
What is common in Maryland, however, is the sex trafficking of women and minors. Insurvivors of human trafficking came in contact with the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force. Of those, were victims of sex trafficking, including girls and women. The data also reveal that those being sexually trafficked in Maryland are not who we might imagine.
The overwhelmingly majority of these survivors are not undocumented immigrants, for example. Nor are the majority chronic substance abusers. All but eight of the sex trafficking survivors in who came in contact with the state trafficking task force were U. Of those who reported their age, 56 percent were 17 or younger. InMaryland ranked fourth among the top states per capita in trafficking cases, trailing Nevada, California, and Ohio, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Chris Heid, an undercover officer with the Maryland State Police, le a sting operation in Baltimore County looking for minors and women, such as this something mother of two, who are being exploited by sex traffickers. Working with Sgt. He and Flory also gather information related to traffickers, in hopes of making arresting and charging pimps.
On the one hand, a growing effort by advocates for survivors, including survivors themselves, to educate the public, law enforcement, and elected officials has started to bring attention to local human trafficking. On the other, little has been done to establish consistent human trafficking training for law enforcement agencies, or assist survivors. Shockingly, there remains no established statewide protocol for handling juvenile survivors, who, to the incredulity of advocates, can still be criminally charged with prostitution in the state of Maryland.
More than half of the to trafficking survivors TurnAround sees each year are minors. The youngest person currently in their program is 11 years old. It was her contact with victims of the traffickers who she was trying to lock up that eventually led to a career switch, working with survivors.
One young woman in particular made a lasting impression—a year-old single mother, struggling to keep herself and her son in their apartment. He was filling up his silver Dodge Charger at a gas station across the street. He saw her and walked over to introduce himself. To flirt. He told her that he had seen her looking at him while he was standing next to his car. Looking across the street, she thought his car was cute, too.
He told her his name was Cartier, like the French jewelry company. Handsome, older, confident, he said he wanted to get to know her. She gave him her phone and he texted her later. He asked if she had any pictures of herself and asked if she had any. The cute guy with the cute car and the exotic name turned out to be year-old Bennie Veasey.
She talked about her dreams and her dreams for her son, and I got to know her as a human being. Although not every woman involved in the sex trade is trafficked, nearly every woman involved in prostitution was trafficked at one point or another. Children in foster care, children who have run away, and those who have been sexually abused ly are the most likely to be exploited. In the U. Translated, that means that aboutchildren are pulled into prostitution each year. For seven years, starting at age 10, she was victimized by sex traffickers on the street, in strip clubs, and in massage parlors.
Pettigrew spent her 17th birthday in a detention center, which she describes as another form of trauma. She also expresses frustration that she and her pimp, two individuals of color, were the targets of law enforcement and not the buyers, who were adults, primarily white, and would pay more for an underage girl. Heid, offering ideas to improve the child-welfare system, pushing for victim assistance, and demanding that survivors help inform policies, training, and protocols going forward.
They end up getting pushed from one system into another—the juvenile justice system. Officials are quick to note that juveniles are rarely charged with prostitution anymore in the state. Minors do, however, end up in the juvenile system for other charges, often related to their victimization by trafficking.
Those youths meet with behavior counseling staff, and depending on the nature of their offense, some may be diverted to a county social services department and linked with nonprofit providers and trauma-informed counselors. But there remains no specialized residential program in the state system for young trafficking survivors. Part of recovery from brainwashing is severing the Stockholm Syndrome-like symptoms—victims often develop an attachment to their traffickers, and refuse to testify in court against their pimps.
The other part, of course, is trying to rebuild—or build for the first time—self-esteem. The most pressing legislative issue, Pettigrew says, is providing immunity to trafficked youths under After that, advocates want to see the establishment of a statewide referral protocol, envisioning a single point of entry and the asment of a case manager for trafficking survivors.
Beyond that there remains a range of steps Maryland could take to prevent trafficking and support survivors, including mandating consistent, survivor-informed awareness campaigns for schools and training for law enforcement. These charges hinder efforts at finding housing and jobs, and can lead back to prostitution or other criminal activity. Her own criminal record, Pettigrew says, added hurdles to the college application process.
She would like to see trafficking hotline s and awareness placed in more public spaces, such as bus stops and strip clubs, and pushed via social media. Nearly all of these recommendations, in fact, were brought forth by the Maryland Safe Harbor Workgroup in its and reports. Montgomery County state Sen. Susan Lee, one of the workgroup members, has introduced several bills in the current General Assembly—including one that mandates awareness training for law enforcement—but she remains skeptical that substantial progress will be made in the session. Or, they believe it is not a problem in their district—so, why create unnecessary laws?
In the absence of successful state legislation and with Maryland ranking among the worst in terms of survivor assistance, according to a comprehensive study, several counties have tried to pick up the ball. Baltimore City and Baltimore County state delegates and senators have not been leaders on the issue, according to local advocates. The Baltimore County Council has not created a specialized task force like other jurisdictions, nor has the Baltimore City Council. Inthe Baltimore City Council did pass a law prohibiting hotels and motels from renting out sleeping accommodations for less than half a day and also requiring that city hotels and motels employees receive training on how to spot trafficking.
But the deadline for completing that training passed in Augustand the Baltimore City Housing Department was unable to confirm at press time whether a single hotel or motel had complied. On one potentially positive note, Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed legislation to close a loophole and further define child sexual abuse to include sex trafficking. But she says that should not prevent elected officials from learning the facts around trafficking and helping survivors get on their feet. She also makes it clear that young women come to her program from every demographic. If an estimated 60 percent have been in the foster care system, it also means that 40 percent have not.
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