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CT fight against human trafficking: insights from key figures and disturbing encounters

FILE: Community members attend an International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking vigil at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb.7, 2023. The Diocese of Oakland held the vigil to focus attention on increased crime in the neighborhood resulting from the trafficking of young women and men drawn into prostitution.
Jane Tyska
/
East Bay Times via Getty
FILE: Community members attend an International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking vigil at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Feb.7, 2023. The Diocese of Oakland held the vigil to focus attention on increased crime in the neighborhood resulting from the trafficking of young women and men drawn into prostitution.

Connecticut is intensifying its efforts against human trafficking in an online event for National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Organized by The Village for Families & Children and other key organizations, stakeholders said the event serves as a crucial platform to shed light on the complex landscape of human trafficking issues within the state.

During the event, Kevin Byczynski provided a written testimony detailing a troubling encounter involving his son and an unknown individual on a scooter. The stranger's repeated presence at the bottom of their driveway, offering rides and observing daily activities, raised concerns and highlighted the unsettling nature of trafficking attempts in the community.

Krystal Rich, executive director for the Connecticut Children's Alliance, said prevention is a critical aspect of the fight against human trafficking. Rich stressed the importance of education and early intervention, addressing trauma, and mitigating environmental factors to reduce vulnerability.

“In many cases that we see with youth, they had been impacted by other forms of violence, abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse impacted by environmental factors and certainly various forms of oppression and racism for certain populations,” Rich said. “If we intervene early, we may, in fact, prevent trafficking from ever occurring.”

In the five years from 2016 to 2021, Connecticut reported 456 arrests for human trafficking offenses, ranging from Class A to Class D felonies. While 2017 marked the highest number of arrests at 107, 2021 saw a decline with only 53. The majority of arrests were linked to promoting a minor in an obscene performance and enticing a minor by computer first offense, constituting 41% of total arrests.

The report encompassed charges involving adults, such as promoting prostitution. The Human Anti-trafficking Response Team(HART) reported over 1,000 children referred to the Department of Children and Families since 2008 as possible victims of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.

In the battle against human trafficking, Sharmese Walcott, the State's Attorney for Hartford, stressed the importance of supporting victims through accessible services and a less burdensome legal process. She said victims often bear the responsibility to come forward and face a challenging legal journey, advocating for a re-evaluation of justice requirements to hold traffickers accountable. Walcott also highlighted the need to recognize that traffickers can be known to victims, urging an increase in prosecutions to address this issue, while alleviating the burdens on victims.

Krystal Rich from the Connecticut Children's Alliance drew attention to the state’s Regional Human Trafficking Recovery Task Force's multidisciplinary approach. She said the initiative aims to respond to both child and adult trafficking cases, working in collaboration with law enforcement, service providers, and advocates to address the complexities that extend across jurisdictions.

Erin Williamson, representing the anti-child exploitation nonprofit Love146, shed light on the organization's critical role in survivor care services in Connecticut. Williamson underscored the challenges posed by resource limitations, emphasizing the urgent need for increased support to provide comprehensive services, especially for youth with prior trauma.

“We are here. There are people that care about you. You are not alone in this. It might feel like you're the only one that this has happened to, but you're not. And there are people and resources,” Williamson described how she offers support to survivors.

“No matter what has happened, whether it's trafficking or whether there's something else has happened to those individuals, you just have to say we're gonna figure this out together," she said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.

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