Human trafficking -- it's not just a problem in other countries or other communities.
It's happening in the United States and right here in the Capital Region.
January is “Human Trafficking Awareness Month.”
In an effort to protect our children, a group of local agencies is presenting a special program and art exhibit.
“This is about what it is victims and survivors go through and how our community sees the issue and how they support survivors,” explained Joanne VanGenderen, a retired teacher and school administrator.
“The more I read about what human trafficking is – using other people for someone’s gain – it was just infuriating to me. That’s why I chose this topic,” she noted.
Hoping that her artwork, shared with others and the support from local community groups, can push back and protect our kids. Because for those at risk, sex slavery happens so very fast.
Forty eight hours is the average length of time it takes for a run-away to land in the hands of a human trafficker says Stacey Midge, an associate minister at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady and an administrator with Patty's Place which provides outreach to street sex workers.
“Even getting someone out of a trafficking situation is really difficulty because they think this is the person who loves them,” Midge acknowledged.
A need for love and a sense of insecurity is what puts kids at risk explains Midge and other experts in the field explain, despite the child's socio-economic status.
Human traffickers are acutely attuned to the insecurities - their radar zeroing in on Facebook and other social media posts.
“Someone is going to pick up on this is a child who feels a need for love and affirmation. The parents can provide that and other responsible adults can provide that or an exploiter is going to provide that,” warned Midge.
The anti-trafficking agency, ECPAT- USA, says the average age of kids on the street working as prostitutes is between 12 and 14 with some as young as 9. While most are girls, boys are not immune.
“The underlying piece of human trafficking is power and control,” pointed out VanGenderen.
VanGenderen's art display: it will be open to the public on Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Proctor's Fenimore Gallery in Schenectady.
There will be poetry readings, dance and speakers. It is free to attend.