Following front-page allegations of prostitution, people packed up the Harmony Spa in Williston and left Friday.
Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan says he's most concerned by the possibility that the alleged workers may not have a choice in their line of work.
"If these women have been trafficked, I view them as victims and do not want to charge them," Donovan said.
Donovan is charging the building's landlord, Thomas Booska, for allowing prohibited acts to occur on his property, a misdemeanor offense.
Booska tells us he didn't know of his tenant's alleged wrongdoing.
Donovan counters that activity didn't stop after Booska received a letter earlier this week, and says prior raids of the parlor in 2004 and 2006 should be a hard-to-miss hint.
"I think once you're on notice, you then can't say you're ignorant of it. You have to take some affirmative steps," Donovan said.
Donovan says as soon as word trickles out, though, most pack up and leave, making the traffickers hard to find, nevermind prosecute.
"I would love to see the word prostitution not even be used in these cases," Barbara Whitchurch said.
Whitchurch chairs the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force. The group is charged with determining the scope of the problem in the Green Mountain State. They haven't determined how big the problem is, but she says it's growing.
Victim Services can provide emergency shelter, legal services, interpreters and counseling. But only if they find those in need, and they can't force victims to get help.
"It's such a hidden crime, it masquerades as other things," Whitchurch said.
She says many are hidden in plain sight. So, advocates like Whitchurch and prosecutors like Donovan hope better informing the public will help the public lead them to the bad guys and their victims.
Advocates say signs of people potentially being held against their will include:
Individuals who live and work in the same place, and rarely leave
People who don't seem to know where they are, and are improperly dressed for the weather
And kids typically seeking medical care who claim to be 18 but look and act much younger
Trafficking doesn't necessarily involve travel.
Prosecutors and advocates ask people to call 211 or 1-888-98-HUMAN if they see anything suspicious.
Friday, March 7 2014 7:28 PM EST2014-03-08 00:28:44 GMT
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