According to service providers and law enforcement experts, the modern-day slave trade is not only alive in Maine, but relies on this outlying state as a key source of new slaves to keep the illegal, violent and largely unseen $32 billion industry running.
Portland Police Sgt. Tim Ferris said, “Traffickers will come up from Atlantic City, Boston and New York and essentially trick these girls into working for them. The victims are not all on the lower socioeconomic levels, either. Some of these girls are from middle-class backgrounds and some are even from high-end families. You would be shocked at who some of these girls are. They’re not who you might think.”
Auburn Police Chief Phillip Crowell said that those involved in the slave trade most likely to be arrested are the victims, and they’re almost always recorded as facing prostitution or drug charges. “You’re going to look at the police blotter and see charges that could really be tied to human trafficking, but we don’t have a standalone [criminal] statute for human trafficking,” Crowell said. “So we enter crimes in under statutes we have or that we’re traditionally familiar with. Until [a new statute is developed], we’re going to have a hard time looking at that data. … We need to look at prostitution differently. For many of these young girls, it’s not a life that they’ve chosen, but rather it’s something they’ve been coerced into doing.”
As more victims come forward, authorities find that regular overnight homeless shelters aren’t equipped to protect the women from being found by their traffickers, and aside from putting the women in jail cells, law enforcement officers can do little to officially protect them unless they’re witnesses in a prosecution. The women won’t help build a case against a trafficker without guarantee of safety, and prosecutors can’t guarantee safety without a case in place. More specialized safe houses, counseling and rehabilitation programs are needed before police and social workers can make a significant dent in the growing problem.
Learn more at Seth Koenig’s Bangor Daily News article: More girls from Maine and Portland being forced into $32 billion sex trade.