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PCA Urges Education and Vigilance During National Human Trafficking Awareness Month

PCA highlights vulnerability of children to trafficking, helps victims heal from trauma

PHILADELPHIA (January 13, 2021) – As the nation observes January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance (PCA) urges the public to learn more about this growing crime and the vulnerability of children to this predation, especially as young people spend more time online and as the pandemic reduces their exposure to those who might report suspicions.

“There are many myths and misconceptions that must be debunked when it comes to the criminal enterprise of human trafficking,” said PCA Interim Director Paul DiLorenzo. “We at PCA want parents, caregivers, educators and the broader community to realize that this crime is widespread, yet at the same time often happens under the radar of even those closest to victims. We are working with a broad network of partners ranging from law enforcement to social services and healthcare institutions to address the root causes of child sex trafficking and provide healing to its victims here in Philadelphia.”

PCA is the dedicated agency in Philadelphia for providing client centered service to human trafficking victims who are youths aged 12 and under, including forensic interviewing, trauma-focused therapy and court advocacy. PCA also coordinates the direct provision of medical care to be delivered at its child-friendly Philadelphia Safety Collaborative, a facility designed to minimize any additional trauma for victims.

Alea Cummings is PCA’s lead therapist dealing with the commercialized sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Cummings and the Support Center for Child Advocates co-lead the social services subcommittee of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, a group of over 80 members from more than 50 agencies, ranging from housing to youth services to organizations such as The Salvation Army. The coalition collaborates to identify and address the vulnerabilities that draw children into trafficking and shift perspectives across systems. Its next endeavor is to distribute an emergency referral flow chat that will be posted in the emergency departments of all hospitals in the City of Philadelphia, providing resources and contacts for nurses and physicians treating youth they suspect are the victims of trafficking.

“Poverty and racism make children more vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation or trafficking,” said Cummings. “Poverty is a coercive tactic and research from the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality has found that the ‘adultification’ of Black girls- perceiving them as older and knowing more about sex than their white counterparts of the same age- is another significant element of their increased risk for trafficking.”

Philadelphia is a physical human trafficking hub because of its airport and location along the I-95 corridor. But young people can also be trafficked right from their bedrooms, solicited to send images or video that is used by criminals to manipulate them and lock them into a cycle of abuse.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has also created a heightened risk of child sex trafficking, as teachers, coaches, and others who might ordinarily see children in person have less contact and opportunity to recognize those at risk. Family members can also be traffickers of children, and stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines give them increased access and ability to hide their crimes.

Data on the number of trafficking victims is difficult to come by, precisely because victims are often living in the shadows and it is a widely under-reported crime. According to Polaris, the organization which manages the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 540 human trafficking victims were identified in Pennsylvania in 2019.

Tips for caregivers to help prevent child trafficking include:

  • Give your child’s devices a bedtime too. All phones, tablets and computers can be securely stored elsewhere during the night. Many predators seek children out between 3 and 5 AM.

  • Familiarize yourself with your child’s online life.

  • Cultivate open, nonjudgement communication in which the child feels safe to talk to you about the individuals they talk to online.

PCA urges anyone who suspects a child is being trafficked to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888. If you are a mandated reporter, call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

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The Philadelphia Children’s Alliance is an independent non-profit organization that promotes healing and justice for sexually abused children in Philadelphia. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we collaborate with our partners in child protection, law enforcement, and medical and mental health services to provide forensic interviews, victim support and counseling services at the Philadelphia Safety Collaborative, a co-located child-friendly facility.

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