Foster care children at risk for sex-trafficking recruitment

Posted at 9:17 PM, Nov 02, 2017

Harford County law enforcement agencies are thinking outside the box and using new methods to combat the alarming trend surrounding child sex-trafficking in Maryland. Investigators say trafficking does not discriminate and its victims are often subjected to a life of abuse.

"The victim can be anybody," said Detective Joe Dugan of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Child Advocacy Center.

Dugan continued,"A lot of times a trafficking victim will look a lot like a domestic violence victim because they're living in domestic violence every day."

RELATED: School pilot program helps educators recognize, report child sex trafficking

As the silent war of sex-trafficking gains more national attention, local traffickers are finding new methods to ensure recruitment--even going as far to 'pimping' within the foster care system.

"So the pimp will say, you know what ...I want you to go into DSS care, because they can get them into a group home..and once they're in that group home and they're around other young ladies, who've had similar issues, do not have anybody, they can recruit them, " said CPS Unit Supervisor of the Harford County Department of Social Services.

According to the Harford County Sheriff's Office, 60 to 90 percent of trafficked girls come through foster care. 

In several cases reported in Maryland, young victims have also been introduced to sex-trafficking by those they depend on most, a trusted an adult. 

"We've had cases where it's their own parent, who has prostituted them to their drug dealer, so that they get their drugs for free," said Welker.

Even the toughest drug criminals are being influenced and converting to trafficking in hopes of a larger payout.

"You think about a drug dealer, he's going to make a trip maybe to New York, going to get a package of drugs, gotta come back here, gotta package it...he sells it, and when he's out he has to go back to New York and get another package.Well if I get myself three or four girls, I can sell them over, over, over again-- I can sell the same girl twenty times a night," said Dugan.

In several cases, detectives have discovered that former drug dealers--now 'pimps' use familiar routes in trafficking schemes.   

"We actually did have a case, where the guy...actually two guys trafficking girls from New York to Virginia Beach, and they actually stopped in Harford County just to make a little bit of money, said Dugan.

Prevention can sometimes start in schools but Harford County investigators are warning it's the youngest victims, that advocates worry about the most.  They stress that parents keep an open line of communication with their children. 

Anyone who knows a victim should seek assistance immediately.

"Reach out, reach out...there are people who care and who want to help," said Welker.

For more information on child protective services visit the Maryland's Department of Human Services website.

Other related resources: 

National Human Trafficking Hotline 

Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force