Cabrini’s backyard offers a perfect storm for human traffickers, and authorities explain why:
The intersection of multiple highways offers easy access to hotels. It neighbors one of the largest malls in the country. Police say the lines blur when it comes to jurisdiction, making it tough to hunt down predators and decide which police department will lead the case.
The exploitation of victims from human trafficking is happening at a national scale, but closer to home, in King of Prussia, it is becoming a major hotspot for human trafficking. One retired Montgomery County police officer, who did not want to be named, said:
“The transportation hub that the turnpike and others are, amazingly, people do not realize the amount of contraband and people that are run through this section of the country. It is absolutely about transportation and the ability to move people.”
The Human Trafficking Institutions 2019 report stated that Pennsylvania ranked fourth nationally in defendant convictions in human trafficking cases. As of 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported a total of 221 cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania, 57 of which were minors.
“When you start talking about jurisdiction, and investigation into it, enforcement is difficult because of the way it’s done in Pennsylvania,” the officer said.
This epidemic is not hidden, it is in plain sight on highways and in local hotels and malls, he said. As determined by the Simon Property Group, the King of Prussia mall attracts more than 35 million visitors annually.
Malls are magnets for traffickers looking for victims. They wait and look for a group of teens so they can prey on the one that may appear as an outsider. Traffickers are looking for certain vulnerabilities and insecurities they can exploit, to isolate the victims from friends and family to establish control. Identifiable vulnerabilities that traffickers prey on are unstable housing, homeless or runaway youth, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and mental illnesses.
“Traffickers who are looking to recruit teenagers are very clever and will play a long game,” Abbie Newman, CEO of Mission Kids said during a Feb. 1 panel at Cabrini University. “Most of the time it is not a snatch and grab, it is getting this teen girl to think she has a love interest, so she goes willingly because she feels a romantic attachment.”
Factor in the ease of transportation provided by the access of three major highways, Interstate 70, 80 and 95, along with various access points all over the King of Prussia area.
Human trafficking, the global issue that continues to be, is also something that all communities in the United States are dealing with daily.
According to Polaris, a national hub of human trafficking data and reports, events like sports games that draw in large groups of people are appealing to various businesses, human trafficking included. As reported by experts, Super Bowl Sunday is a time for fun and food, but it is also the biggest weekend for human trafficking in the United States. So while football fans are out partying and cheering for their favorite team to pull through, there are children, women and men who are being abused and damaged due to human trafficking.
“Complex trauma is what is happening to these victims, they are being raped or molested over and over again, six, seven, 10 times a day. That is more than just trauma,” Carla Clanagan, program director at Worthwhile Wear, said.
COVID-19 has also had an immense impact on the demand for labor. With the labor shortage and push for better working conditions, certain businesses can not fill positions fast enough, so they will have people trafficked in for cheap labor.
“A lot of those people are dropped by persons that are managing their lives, holding their identification, their passports,” the Montgomery County police officer said. “Keeping threats actively against their families and against them and using other methods like sexual assault to keep them at bay right where they are at.”
Human trafficking is a business that runs off a supply and demand model. The supply is the victims of trafficking being exploited, so where is the demand coming from? The victims are coming from within our communities and so are the buyers, Newman said.
“There is no other side to this issue; this is as close to evil personified as you can imagine,” Walt Hunter, eyewitness reporter, said during the panel.