Is sex trafficking a problem in Maine? That's a question we answer in the first part of the series Sex Trafficking in Maine: Bringing to Light a Dark Truth.
Maine, known to many as Vacationland, is a destination with its gorgeous waterfronts. A draw for its great outdoor recreational activities but behind the beauty lurks a darker side.
"Yes, sex trafficking is happening in Maine," said Carey Nason, director of Hope Rising.
Hope Rising is a housing and treatment facility for survivors of sex trafficking in Central Maine. Nason says sex trafficking is happening across the state -- even right here in Penobscot County.
"Sometimes it means that people are brought to different parts throughout the state. Sometimes they stay in certain locations. ... It isn't just isolated to more urban areas, that this is occurring in rural areas," said Nason.
A 2015 report by Hornby and Zellers Association for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assaults estimates that there are about 200 to 300 victims of sex trafficking in Maine annually.
"I think it's a fair assessment. This is something that's been going on for a long time. Again, we don't see it frequently here, but with the label of sex trafficking becoming more of a widespread term over the past few years, we have seen a slight increase in recent reports on it," said Sgt. Wade Betters of the Bangor Police Department.
The 2017 report "Human Trafficking in Maine" by the Maine Advisory Commission to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights states that people who commit sex trafficking crimes "frequently prey on the trust and vulnerability of their victims."
"Sometimes that can be a family that isn't able to meet their needs. And so they turn out their children or family members to be able to earn income to be able to take care of the family," Nason said.
Nason said that most often, victims know their trafficker.
"It's a friend, it's a partner, it's a family member. It's someone they know or they get introduced to someone through a friend or they meet someone online," she said. "So it's not like a, typically like, a stranger type situation that gets someone into a trafficking situation."
That report found that only about 14 percent of trafficking victims report the crimes against them.
Betters said these cases come with barriers for law enforcement.
"There have been times when we have gotten notification and we've interacted with people we feel are involved in that activity, but getting them to cooperate has been very, very difficult," Betters said.
The reason could be multiple factors.
"For victims who are caught up in trafficking and are being trafficked, it is dangerous to talk to the police oftentimes. It means essentially that person is going to tell law enforcement what s going on and there s a price that comes with that," said Nason.
The Maine Trafficking Report also said that in some cases online dating websites or other websites can lure in victims.
"It's not uncommon to use the internet to find these types of services available. A lot of times, some specific internet sites will advertise certain services, sexual services that are available in certain towns," Betters said.
He said this is a problem driven by a need.
"If you have a lot of people that are responding to these types of adds, they re going to keep coming. And unfortunately it's just like a bigger circle of further victimizing more people," said Betters.
In the second part of Sex Trafficking in Maine: Bringing to Light a Dark truth we'll meet a victim and learn why it's difficult for victims to leave their traffickers and how they become trapped.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It helps connect people to the resources in their area. That number is 1 (888) 373-7888.