Advocates and law enforcement officials say child sex trafficking is a real problem in Connecticut, and more resources and awareness are needed to fight the problem. That was the topic of a roundtable discussion in New Haven Monday.
The Connecticut Department of Children and Families reports that the department has received 250 referrals of potential child sex trafficking cases over the last six years. Tammy Sneed of the DCF says most of them are girls from Connecticut between the ages of 11 and 18.
“Many of these young people have lengthy histories of abuse and neglect," said Sneed. "Probably half of them are known to some sort of state system. And a majority of these young people are from Connecticut, but we’ve also had some young people from other states that have been identified.”
She said these kids are all likely at very high risk.
"But what we do know about this population is that they often do not see themselves as victims. It’s often a process for them," Sneed said.
Erin Williamson works with many of these victims as a support coordinator for the anti-slavery advocacy group Love 146.
“I think we’re seeing a growing number, certainly since when I entered the field more than 10 years ago, where there might not be a third party,” Williamson said.
By third party, she means there’s no pimp. And even when there’s not a pimp in the situation, she says these young people are still victims and it’s important that law enforcement treats them that way. A state law going into effect in October requires police departments to get training in how to deal with sex trafficking cases. But Sneed worries that departments won’t give officers time off the beat to get the training.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who was also on the panel, says the federal government needs to do more to fight trafficking domestically, as well as at the border, where undocumented immigrant children are often victims.
“Resources are an issue at the federal level," said Blumenthal. "The department of justice, including prosecutors in the United States Attorneys' offices, needs more people. Some need more training.”
Blumenthal says in addition to police and the public, there needs to be more awareness of the issue in the U.S. Senate, and he asked the advocates to come speak about child sex trafficking in Washington.
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