For All Seasons, is proud to be a part of the Governor’s initiative – the Maryland Regional Navigator Program – serving human trafficking victims under the age of 24 on the Mid-Shore of Maryland. Although For All Seasons has been working with victims of human trafficking for years, this program connects our Regional Navigator with experts across the state to better support human trafficking victims on the Mid-Shore.
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or threats to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act against a person’s will, often for little or no pay, or for something of value such as food, shelter, clothes, or drugs. It is a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children. All persons under age 18 who exchange sex for something of value are human-trafficking victims regardless of the presence of force, lies, or threats. A child cannot legally consent to commercial sex.
“Our Open Your Eyes. Get Informed. campaign provides the opportunity to raise awareness and start a conversation with your children, family, and friends about exploitation and Human Trafficking. Trafficking is happening here in our community, and the public needs to be informed about the signs, risk factors, and resources available for victims,” comments Kristy Mirando, Director of Victim Services at For All Seasons.
The Eastern Shore is an attractive place for trafficking because of its geographic location in proximity to transportation routes by land, air, and sea that offer opportunities for human traffickers to go undetected. Major highways like I-95, Routes 40, 50, 301, and 13 all make transporting victims and meeting buyers easy. In addition, three major international, inexpensive bus transportation, train service, and a high rate of seasonal work make Maryland attractive to human traffickers.
Susan Ahlstrom, For All Seasons’ new Human Trafficking Navigator comments, “I hope to help mitigate the upward trend in Human Trafficking by expanding For All Seasons Rape Crisis Center’s outreach and strengthening the medical, legal, social service, and mental health collaboration that has already been established to support survivors. I believe my counseling and education background, along with the strong communication and networking skills that I bring to the position of Human Trafficking Navigator, will help facilitate the most effective trauma-informed response to serve victims and their families in the Mid-shore region and beyond.”
Human trafficking does not discriminate based on age, class, gender, race, education, sexual orientation, or geographical location. It can occur in rural, suburban, and urban communities. Targeted victims may have an unstable home life, a history of sexual or physical abuse, nowhere to live, be runaway youth, a substance user, have a lack of employment opportunities, or simply be a person who needs belonging and acceptance. The most vulnerable individuals may have experienced sexual violence and trauma in the past, homelessness, involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, experienced substance abuse themselves or within their families, or be immigrants, LGBTQ youth, or developmentally or intellectually delayed individuals.
On the Mid-Shore, For All Seasons Rape Crisis Center has seen an uptick in trafficking victims through online sexual exploitation. Greater amounts of time online during the Covid epidemic and beyond have put youth at greater risk of being lured by online predators. These imposters often give the impression they are younger and romantically interested in the minor being targeted to earn their trust to gain illicit photographs or videos of the minor. Youth sometimes end up meeting up in person with perpetrators they befriended online and this often leads to trafficking situations.
Parents and caregivers are highly encouraged to talk to their children about the risks of sharing personal information online and educate them on why they should not communicate with anyone they do not know, even if it appears to be another youth.
Parents must monitor their children’s use of all digital devices including laptops, tablets, desktop computers, gaming consoles, and smartphones. Traffickers tend to target marginalized and vulnerable individuals who may have experienced trauma or abuse, but any child can be at risk of being groomed by a predator.
If you are a parent or a caregiver, know whom your child is talking to online. Talk to them about the risks of predators, remind them not to friend someone they do not know, never send photos and other personal information, and never meet up with people they do not know. Parents and caregivers can learn more about keeping kids safe online at: bit.ly/tips_onlinesafety.
To learn about how to identify possible human trafficking victims, the industries where human trafficking most likely occurs, and how to help, visit WeSupportSurvivors.org. If you want to stay updated on anti-human trafficking community events or presentations, email Susan Ahlstrom at [email protected].
For All Seasons provides the highest quality mental health and victim services to children, adults, and families across Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Services are offered in both English and Spanish and include therapy, psychiatry, victim advocacy, 24-hour crisis hotlines, outreach, and community education. For further information, contact For All Seasons at 410-822-1018 or visit forallseasonsinc.org