EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. (WWLP) – A Human Trafficking Awareness event was held at East Longmeadow High School on Wednesday.

According to the East Longmeadow Police Department, the event was about learning from professionals on how human trafficking is impacting local communities. The forum, sponsored by the East Longmeadow Rotary Club, took place at East Longmeadow High School Wednesday evening with The Underground New England. The organization is a local faith-based initiative dedicated to ending sex trafficking throughout Connecticut and the rest of New England.

“There was a 90% increase in child exploitation online,” said Annmarie Boulay, Executive Director for The Underground New England. “Every child and youth have a device in their hand, and that’s a world that they are exposed to… and they don’t know how to always stay safe, so one of the things we discuss is social media safety.”

The organization “Wreaths with a Reason” was also in attendance Wednesday night. Since 2014, they have raised thousands of dollars by making wreaths with the funds going towards supporting organizations that restore the lives of victims of sex trafficking.

President Biden has declared that January 2023 is “National Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” according to the U.S. Department of State’s website. This declaration reaffirms his Administration’s commitment to protect and empower survivors of all forms of human trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and bring an end to human trafficking in the United States and all around the world.

The Hampden County District Attorney’s Office was awarded $97,000 from the state’s 2023 Human Trafficking Enforcement and Training Grant Program. The program supports efforts by district attorneys and their law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute human trafficking, strengthen community relationships and expand the use of victim-centered and multi-disciplinary approaches to serving trafficking victims.

If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking, we strongly suggest that you contact one of the organizations below:

  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24/7. Services are free and confidential.
  • 1-888-373-7888
  • Text 233733
  • Chat online at humantraffickinghotline.org

Human trafficking, or trafficking in persons, includes both forced labor and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of State’s website. It represents a threat to international peace and security but it also undermines the rule of law. Human trafficking robs millions of their dignity and freedom and threatens public safety and national security everywhere.

Human Trafficking includes:

  1. Labor trafficking, including the recruitment, enticement, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining by any means of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, or for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

    Examples include but are not limited to:
    • Forced labor, domestic servitude or debt bondage in workplaces such as restaurants, bars, nail salons and factories
    • Domestic workers employed to provide housekeeping or childcare services who are paid low or no wages under the threat of deportation
    • Women lured to the United States and/or into or within Massachusetts by promises to marry who are then coerced to work
  2. Sex trafficking, including the recruitment, enticement, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining by any means of a person to engage in a commercial sexual act.

    Examples include but are not limited to:
    • Individuals lured into this country and/or into or within Massachusetts with false promises of legitimate work, only to be forced into the sex industry
    • Runaways or homeless individuals forced to trade sex for a place to sleep
    • Individuals baited into prostitution by a person of trust
  3. Sex trafficking of a minor, including the recruitment, enticement, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining by any means of a child under the age of 18 to engage in a commercial sexual act.
    • Any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether he or she is forced or coerced.

More than 27.6 million people, including adults and children, are subjected to human trafficking around the world, including in the United States. During the Covid-19 pandemic, traffickers are continuing to perpetrate crime, finding ways to innovate and to capitalize on the chaos.