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Are young Burlington kids being lured into sex for drugs? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Are young Burlington kids being lured into sex for drugs?

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

There are allegations of drug dealers and gangs preying on kids and soliciting sex in the Queen City. WCAX investigates comments in the Congressional record.

These kind of Senate Judiciary Committee field hearings are rare, but Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, wanted to hear from those on the front lines of Vermont's opiate epidemic. Witnesses painted a grim picture, but is the problem actually getting better?

It was a hearing that grabbed headlines and the testimony was shocking. Advocates say no child should be afraid of where they live, but Vermont's opiate addiction.

"We had children telling us that they were afraid to walk home at night, afraid to walk across the park, afraid to walk down North Street to their family apartment," said Mary Alice McKenzie from the Burlington Boys and Girls Club.

There were stories of Burlington children fearful of where they live dodging drug traffickers, sexual propositions, guns and gangs.

"They told us of being followed, harassed and assaulted by those under the influence of drugs. 13 and 14-year-old children telling us that they had been approached by people who were living in their neighborhood to carry backpacks or serve as lookouts," said McKenzie.

McKenzie heads the largest Boys and Girls Club in the state serving 200 to 250 kids a day. She told Vermont's Congressional delegation Monday of three years of troubles. What she calls the collateral damage of the state's opiate addiction.

"That is not normal for us," said McKenzie.

McKenzie says between 2011 and 2014 the club reported 22 addiction based incidents to police, the Department for Children and Families or both. DCF says mandated reporters, like the Boys and Girls Club, are notified if a report is accepted or rejected. McKenzie could not provide us with those outcomes.

"What was especially unusual is not the quantity, the number of serious reports we were making to the police, it was the severity of the incidents," said McKenzie.

Channel 3 News dug into the numbers investigating the pervasiveness of the problem.

"The types of sort of high end things that Mary Alice was describing, the number that have made it to law enforcement reports, are four or five," said Chief Mike Schirling from the Burlington Police Department.

Of those reports, Schirling says two cases involved allegations of kids solicited for sex. Investigators were not able to substantiate those claims and no charges were filed.

One case centered on claims of abuse and neglect. A child was removed from the home.

A fourth case involved allegations a child was living in a home where drugs were sold. One man was arrested and the child was taken into protective custody.

"There are many collateral effects of the opiate challenges that we've got right now. And some of them involve kids in fairly dangerous situations. That's not pervasive," said Schirling.

Schirling serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Club. He says the police department has partnered with the organization to keep kids safer. Increased security in the park across the street advocated for driving kids home after dark and stepped up drug enforcement with state and federal partners.

"We are in a better place. If we want to turn a negative trend line around we can. And I think that's the message. It's a hopeful message. It's not a sensational message and it's not a sky is falling message," said Mckenzie.

"The more comfortable we make kids in reporting, the more reports potentially beget other reports. And that's really the overall goal to uncover more information and be able to create enhanced safety as a result of getting more information and be able to create enhanced safety as a result of getting more information," said Schirling.

Schirling says there are no open investigations into these kinds of incidents involving children. 

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