BANGOR – January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and while it’s not always a visible issue, experts say human trafficking is happening all over.
“If the people in Maine knew what was going on for real-real, they would be all over this like white on rice,” said Catherine Ann Wilson, a trafficking survivor who lives in southern Maine. “They obviously don’t know what’s going on, and we need to tell them.”
Human trafficking is an issue plaguing communities worldwide, and Maine is not immune.
The term refers to when a person is compelled into sexual exploitation or slave labor through force, fraud or coercion.
“It’s something that’s unreported, under-reported, like other types of violence, and it happens in secret,” said Jess Bedard, director of program planning and performance at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault or MECASA.
“So folks people may not know it’s happening, but it is happening,” Bedard said.
According to the most recent study on sex trafficking in Maine, between 200 to 300 cases of sex trafficking happen in the state each year.
“We think, based on the number of people who are served by sexual assault centers and domestic violence providers, that the number of people experiencing sex trafficking and sex exploitation is much greater than that,” said Bedard.
Many survivors, like Wilson, emphasize how adverse childhood experiences, also referred to as “ACEs,” made them more susceptible to trafficking later in life.
“For me, that was one year of actual trafficking, a few years of being sexually exploited, but where it started from was first grade, when the school administrator in my first grade school was taking me out of class and sexually abusing me,” said Wilson, who is also the founder of Stop Trafficking US, a non-profit organization established to stop the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in Maine.
According to MECASA, you can help by raising awareness about trafficking and abuse, as well as supporting organizations that help marginalized communities, like food banks or homeless shelters.
“Can you donate to a food bank? Can you support your local immigration organization? Can you help LGBTQ youth out?” said Jennifer Wilkey, communications coordinator at MECASA. “Through creating communities where there’s less vulnerability, less people that are going to be susceptible to trafficking is huge and one of the biggest ways folks can help.”
“By protecting and supporting these folks, these communities, we create a safer space for all of us,” Bedard added.
Help is available 24/7 in Maine through MECASA’s free, private helpline. The number to call is 1-800-871-7741.
According to its website, MECASA works to end sex assault in Maine through “initiating and advocating for victim-centered public policy; providing expert training, technical assistance, and resources for providers and partners; funding sexual assault service providers; and informing conversations about sexual violence.”
Additional resources are also available at MECASA’s website, including a list of Maine resources to stop sexual assault and help victims and survivors. You can also find MECASA on Facebook.