AP NEWS

Marywood Students Spread Awareness Of Human Trafficking

April 6, 2019

The rain had slackened to a drizzle Friday by the time the three Marywood University students approached Scranton’s intermodal downtown transit center on Lackawanna Avenue.

It seemed a good spot. A travel hub they suspected human traffickers and those they enslave may pass through — invisible, unless you know what to look for.

Luckily, they brought posters.

More than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students from Marywood fanned out Friday across Northeast Pennsylvania to distribute posters aimed at raising awareness about human trafficking.

“We need to know more about it,” said graduate student Alysha Ennis, 23. “We need to educate not only our kids about it but ourselves.”

The poster distribution came on the heels of Thursday night’s screening of “I am Jane Doe,” a 2017 documentary that followed cases of children enslaved in the sex trade and trafficked on Backpage.com. Now defunct, Backpage operated as a classifieds website, but its “escort” section contained advertisements for prostitution, which human traffickers used.

The documentary was eye opening, said Emily Ousouljoglou, a 23-year-old graduate student pursuing her master’s in social work.

Ousouljoglou and undergraduates Ali Lindsey and Emilia Rosas, both 21, stopped by the downtown intermodal center to put up posters with a hotline number those suspicious of trafficking can contact. A man behind the desk at the center took some posters and said he’d give them to his supervisor to display in windows.

Trafficking is a problem everywhere, and Pennsylvania is not immune from it, Marywood associate professor Sunny Sinha, MSW, Ph.D., said.

“This is a pass-through state,” Sinha, who has studied trafficking, said at Friday’s event. “It can be invisible.”

A 2012 government study also found that trafficking victims originate in Pennsylvania, and the state is a pass-through and destination at the same time. Victims are brought here specifically so they can be exploited.

The exploitation and cruelty of trafficking in Northeast Pennsylvania played out in gut-wrenching detail recently at the federal courthouse in Scranton. There, a jury convicted Fredrick Brown, 36, on March 15 with federal sex and drug trafficking charges for prostituting women out of a Bartonsville Howard Johnson hotel for years.

“He used rape as punishment when they didn’t follow instructions, make enough money or did something that displeased him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean A. Camoni said during his opening statement.

The jury also found Brown guilty of trafficking minors. One of the women exploited by Brown, federal prosecutors said, was 17.

Lindsey said she learned during a panel discussion that traffickers prowling for children sometimes focus on malls. After leaving the intermodal center, the three women made their way to the Marketplace at Steamtown.

A woman in the main office told them they could not hang the posters in the mall proper, but directed them to a public bulletin board in the mall’s Starbucks. Management there had no problem.

They picked one with bright colors and a succinct message.

“Look beneath the surface,” it read. “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.”

Contact the writer:

jkohut@timesshamrock.com

570-348-9144; @jkohutTT

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-3737-888.