Local officials work to help human trafficking victims - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Local officials work to help human trafficking victims

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It's a crime Vermont State Police say can happen anywhere. Investigators continue to find both labor and sex trafficking in neighborhoods across our region. State Police detectives say most of their cases are in the commercial sex trade and that many victims' stories begin with drugs.

Victim advocates and detectives agree that anyone can be a victim of human trafficking. 

"The victims are from all walks of life in the state of Vermont. We also see victims brought in from out of state. Economic class really doesn't have any bearings on who our victims are," said Det. Tpr. Matthew Hil, Vermont State Police.

'It's across the board. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor and if you're any nationality and any religion. It's there, and so everybody can be affected," said Sister Pat McKittrick, UVM Community Health Improvement and Outreach Team. 

The U.S. attorney for Vermont is currently collecting state and federal data to determine exactly how many cases have been identified.

"What we've seen is a huge uptick over the past few years in our ability to identify the victims," said Hill. 

Just last month, New York City and Winooski resident Brian Folks was charged with five counts of sex trafficking. Multiple experts tell us there's a link between the crime and the region's opioid crisis.

"One of the byproducts of opioid addiction is that can lead to situations where human trafficking becomes an issue. It's one of the reasons we're pushing so hard to push back on this opioid crisis," said Mayor Miro Weinberger, D-Burlington.

"So they can get into a dealer who says he's there to help them, but as that drug debt goes, he's going to want that money back or she's going to want that money back. It's all about greed at that point," said Hill.

Sister Pat McKittrick works with victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

"If any time, somebody is in a vulnerable position, a lot of times, traffickers will try to get them," said McKittrick.

While the two are different crimes, Hill says traffickers often control their victims using the same methods domestic abusers do-- isolation and force.

McKittrick hosted a domestic violence panel discussion in Winooski Tuesday night. She says the ways to help victims of both crimes are similar.

"Part of it is just education, and letting people know that there are resources and we can work together," said McKittrick. 

"If somebody is caught in this life and they want out, all they have to do is dial 211 and there are non-governmental support agencies, victim service providers that will help them," said Hill.

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