Call center seen as key tool in sex-trafficking fight - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Call center seen as key tool in sex-trafficking fight

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ESSEX, Vt. -

Vermont's U.S. Attorney's Office has prosecuted 93 drug trafficking cases this year, and U.S. Attorney Eric Miller says many of those involve a modern form of slavery. The state is hoping to bring attention to sex trafficking, asking the community to use a hotline to stop the violence before it starts.

A Vermont 2-1-1 call could be for a basic need, or involve a life in danger, or a victim of human trafficking.

When Channel 3 visited the 2-1-1 call center, Sarah Lee took a call from the suicide prevention hotline. She asked if the person on the other line was thinking about killing himself. Such is one example of the difficult task specialists have dealing with such a wide range of issues.

Trying to crack down on human trafficking as a result of the drug trade, the state of Vermont is asking for the community's help spotting potential victims and making a call.  "The three points that you need to listen for with human trafficking is: is the person being coerced? Is there fraud involved or is there force involved? It's all about active listening, hearing what's not said, asking the right questions," Lee said.

Many calls start with a victim asking for basic needs, like food or shelter. Through questioning, 2-1-1's specialists piece together a full picture of a caller's situation in order to get them the most appropriate emergency help.

Cindy Maguire announced this week that the Department for Children and Families is forming a task force designed to spot youths at risk of being trafficked. "It's a hidden problem," Maguire said. "And as we've said, victims don't self-identify. They don't believe that they're victims. One of the things that we look at is youths that run, run from state custody, and one of the things that we've learned from our partners around the country is that that is a particularly high risk level."

Vermont's 2-1-1 specialists have received more than 1,300 calls already this year dealing with mental health and substance abuse. When it's a teen involved, their first call is to DCF. "We have instant access to discuss and problem solve with child protective services," Lee said

The U.S. Attorney's office reports 75-percent of trafficking victims they see in Vermont are women. Many don't seek help themselves, meaning often the community can help them seek help well before law enforcement. "We want people to know that it happens here in Vermont," Maguire said.

Some have called sex trafficking an epidemic in Vermont. However, rarely is trafficking self-reported. However,  if more calls come in to 2-1-1, it is a good sign that more victims are getting the help they need.

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