Don’t Ignore Perils Of Human Trafficking

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. An effort to combat human trafficking starts with preventing child abuse and neglect. Child sex trafficking is an issue that affects children in all communities, both in the United States and Chautauqua County.

Since 2016, the YWCA of Jamestown’s Safe Harbour Program has been diligently hard at work dispelling common myths and misconceptions around human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. In order for the community to better understand the realities of how subtly sex trafficking is happening, Safe Harbour raises awareness and provides skill building education to students and people who work with youth in our county.

To put it simply, human trafficking is “taking advantage of someone for labor or sex in order to receive something of value (money, drugs, food, shelter, clothing). The person being taken advantage of is forced, lied to, or blackmailed in multiple ways and/or is under 18.” When a person under 18 is engaging in sex or a sex act in exchange for anything of value they are a victim of a crime.

The majority of children and teens of abuse know their perpetrator. Abusers can be neighbors, friends, or family members. Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than people realize. Children who are trafficked rarely disclose they have been sexually exploited. Traffickers target young children, particularly vulnerable children. Often, traffickers will create a seemingly loving and caring relationship with their victim in order to establish trust. Because of the severity of this manipulative relationship, children often do not realize they are victims of trafficking. Young children and adolescents often trust their abuser and do not understand they’re being abused. They may also depend on their abuser or they may be too scared to tell anyone what is happening to them. Child Sexual Exploitation is a hidden crime on our area. People can help by protecting our children. Every child needs adults in their life they can talk to without fear of being in trouble or blamed. They need adults they can trust to help keep them safe.

Safe Harbour’s primary focus is preventing trafficking and exploitation from happening to youth in Chautauqua County. Through the use of research and evidence based curriculums using prevention efforts to teach K-12 what human trafficking is has been crucial. While in the classrooms, interactive lessons portray the tactics traffickers like to use to exploit their victims, who the traffickers are, and learning what to do if you suspect that you or someone you know is or has been a victim of this crime.

Safe Harbour is grateful for the opportunity to continue to work inside 13 school districts throughout Chautauqua County. We will continue to strive for more. The conversations in the classrooms have been an essential part of our work to help keep youth safe. Our lessons have been well received by not only the students, but the teachers as well. They are learning to look for noticeable changes within their own students and how to report and respond in an immediate situation.

Human trafficking has been an identified need for Chautauqua County. To learn more information about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation please call the Safe Harbour office at 716-268-1464. As adults, it is our responsibility to keep our children safe.

Wende Lescynski is the YWCA’s Safe Harbour of Chautauqua County prevention educator.

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