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Human Traffickers Drawn to Small Towns, Rural Communities


Courtesy U.S. Department of Homeland Security

A poster from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign, a public awareness program designed to stop human trafficking.

The “not in my back yard” mentality is a boon to human traffickers, as many are choosing to move their business beyond big cities into unsuspecting rural communities with fewer resources to deal with the problem. This was the theme of a recent webinar by ICMA’s Center for Public Safety Management featuring the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“Traffickers like to work underground,” explained presenter Scott Santoro, training program manager at the Homeland Security’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. “They don’t necessarily want to work in big cities. They are drawn to small towns … because they feel like they won’t get caught. So areas that have a lot of agricultural farming, areas that have not a lot of law enforcement on patrol…those are areas that are also breeding grounds. Traffickers know that and they want to do some of their work there.”

The word “trafficking” is misleading, he explained. There isn’t necessarily movement across borders, but an extreme level of manipulation that traps people into situations. Human trafficking can take the form of forced labor or commercial sex. The majority of U.S. victims are trafficked for commercial sex. The average age of victims is 12-13 years for girls and 13-14 years for boys. For this reason, school officials, first responders, and even service delivery personnel need to know how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.

In this webinar, Santoro and DHS special agent Dave Meadows dispelled the myths of human trafficking, shared a case study from Illinois, and discussed the department’s Blue Campaign, which offers free resources and training materials to local governments. A key mission of the Blue Campaign is to educate first responders, school officials, and anyone serving the public, to identify and report suspected incidences of human trafficking.

Learn more about this ICMA webinar, which is available on demand.

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