Penn. Officials Discuss Training First Responders How to Handle Human Trafficking

Penn. Officials Discuss Training First Responders How to Handle Human Trafficking

News Oct 21, 2017

The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Oct. 21—Members of the Cambria County Human Trafficking Response Team met Friday morning at Emmanuel Church in Richland Township to discuss tactics and strategies for tackling what they describe as the region's growing human trafficking crisis.

Group leaders say their biggest priorities for the near future include raising awareness of the problem's existence, providing trafficking-related training to area law enforcement officers and creating guidelines for first responders to follow when responding to trafficking incidents.

Kelly Callihan, Cambria County district attorney, said that a protocol for first responders is needed in part because the state law governing human trafficking is so new. Pennsylvania enacted what experts at Villanova University described as the state's "first comprehensive anti-trafficking statute," Act 105, in September 2014.

"This is a newer crime in Pennsylvania, so everybody needs guidance in how to respond and how to handle a human trafficking incident," Callihan said.

"It's important to have everyone who's part of a human trafficking response team understand and know their roles when an incident happens."

To create that protocol, she added, the group plans to look at examples set by neighboring counties and by national organizations, then tweak what works there to fit Cambria County's needs.

Carla Smith, counselor at Emmanuel Church and chairwoman of the response team's education subcommittee, recently attended a convention at which a state trooper from Westmoreland County discussed the challenges he and his colleagues face when investigating reports of human trafficking.

When she asked the trooper how regular people can best help law enforcement officers fight trafficking, he told her two things, she said. First, people should urge officials to put a protocol in place for responding to trafficking incidents; second, parents should familiarize themselves with the tactics human traffickers use online to recruit new victims.

Parents should be on the lookout for anonymous individuals contacting their children on social media or through messaging apps, paying them compliments and promising them jobs or material goods like jewelry or smartphones, Smith said.

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These tactics can be especially effective when targeted toward vulnerable teenagers, she added: "Online, through social media, they are looking for those that might be struggling in family relationships.

"They're looking for those who might be showing self-esteem issues. They're looking for anyone they might be able to strike up a conversation with.

"If you've never met a person face to face, they should not be a friend on social media," Smith advised.

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McClatchy
Mark Pesto
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