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Circle Forum - Sex Trafficking

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 | The BWGC

Back row: Susan Talles and Lynn Davidov. Front row: Amanda Rodriguez, TurnAround; Vaugn Harper, Homeland Security; Shaamere McKenzie, Salvation Army; Rachel Sye, TurnAround and Tim Behnam, TurnAround

The Circle Forum presentation of June 1 featured a panel on sex trafficking.  As defined by Homeland Security, sex trafficking is a crime committed when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to perform commercial sex acts (see https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/videos/sex-trafficking). The presenters were Amanda Rodriguez, a former prosecutor who is now with the TurnAround, which provides counseling and support services to victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse and sex trafficking; Rachel Sye, a staff member at TurnAround who focuses on client training; Vaughn Harper, a special agent with Homeland Security; and Shamere McKenzie, a trafficking survivor who now works for the Salvation Army.

Amanda described the various forms human trafficking can take, such as stripping, prostitution, and pornography and explained why Maryland is a high trafficking state (wealthy state, high drug traffic, access to I-95 and major airports).  She informed us of recent legislation that has been passed to aid in the control and reduction of trafficking:  (1) the requirement for law enforcement training, (2) the requirement that the national hotline number be posted in strip clubs, hotels, etc., and (3) a law changing the definition of a pimp.  She gave the group two important numbers:  (1) the National Hotline Number (888-373-7888) and the number for TurnAround (443-279-0379) both of which are answered 24 hours a day.

Vaughn Harper described the priorities of Homeland Security as it works to reduce trafficking:  (1) local law enforcement training, (2) undercover work at hotels, (3) website searches on social media sites to identify solicitors and their victims, and (4) distribution of brochures at locations such as truck stops.  His final point was “If you see something, say something.”  Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline also known as Polaris: (888) 373-7888.

Shamee McKenzie spent 18 months involved in trafficking, ending 10 years ago.  She described the services that helped her end her work as a sex worker: counseling, peer support, and job training.

Rachel Sye said that TurnAround gets more than 100 referrals annually.  The services provided include crisis management, access to emergency assistance shelters, therapy services, and referrals for services such as housing and support groups.  The agency is a 2016 two-year grant recipient of the BWGC and those funds are being used for TurnAround’s “Employment Readiness Program,” which includes employment training, self-assessment programs, resume preparation, and placement in internships.  In the past year TurnAround has served 39 clients who are survivors of sex trafficking with 26 of them completing the program.  Eleven of these clients now have gainful employment.