Local response team reacts to sex trafficking crackdown

Local News

Several leading websites used to advertise prostitution and sex trafficking have been shut down after Congress passed new legislation targeting those websites. However, a local human trafficking response team says it won’t be enough to curb the problem.

Federal officials seized the classified advertising website Backpage.com. Craigslist also shut down its personal ads page following the passing of new legislation by the Senate and the House.

The legislation would allow victims of human trafficking to sue the websites that enabled their abuse.

“How many kids had to be sold on there before something happened?” said Carla Smith, the chair of the Cambria County Human Trafficking Response Team. “They have shut down those sex ads, but we’re not naive enough to think that those won’t crop up somewhere else.”

Tuesday, Smith along with professors at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College and Conemaugh Hospital employees hosted an educational seminar about human trafficking for the 6th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar hosted by the college.

“It’s in our area with the Turnpike and in Breezewood areas: the high-traffic areas. We’re seeing more and more human trafficking entering into our rural areas,” said Asst. Criminal Justice Professor Dennis Miller.

The $150 billion industry affects nearly 21 million victims worldwide, even in Cambria County. In January, a Johnstown man – Barshay Dunbar – was sentenced to 13-26 years in prison for running a human trafficking ring out of a Richland Township motel.

Smith said the online crackdown is a start, but the market may just relocate to other similar websites.

“There will be other places those young people will be sold because this is a thing that traffickers are not going to give up that easy,” Smith said.

Public awareness and education are key, according to Smith. Law enforcement and healthcare workers also need to be on the lookout.

“Certain branding of tattoos. If they’re brought in by a certain individual and a group of girls and guys are brought in together,” said Pamela Vyhonsky, the operations coordinator for the Conemaugh Hospital Emergency Department.

Currently, the response team is looking for funding to provide safe housing for local human trafficking victims. Until then, the team will continue to educate the community and try to identify and help victims of human trafficking.

You can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at: 1-888-373-7888 or visit their website.

For a list of other signs of human trafficking to look out for, click here.

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