Members of the six-county Human Trafficking Response Team met Monday in Judge Joy Reynolds McCoy's chambers to discuss the group's next steps. Promoting awareness among police officers and providing outreach to the public were at the top of the agenda.
"It's the local folks who are going to see (human trafficking) but they're not going to see it if they don't know what's going on," Oasis of Hope founder and President Debbie Colton said.
Plans were made to integrate human trafficking education into law enforcement's daily roll call sessions. When local police encounter a case where human trafficking might be happening, the county detective will identify who needs to get involved - such as shelters and children and youth services, according to Transitions CEO Susan Mathias.
The team already has identified detectives to serve as contact people in each of the team's six counties: Lycoming, Northumberland, Tioga, Union, Snyder and Bradford.
Each county's team will be made up of a detective, a prosecutor, a Children and Youth Services representative, a sexual assault nurse and a victim's advocate, according to the group's protocol.
"None of these cases will be one-county cases," Mathias indicated.
"It's in everybody's backyard," Colton said.
Colton was appointed to head the education and outreach subcommittee. The subcommittee's first goal is to print and circulate posters bearing a hotline number for victims of human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline Notification Act requires this number be posted at certain bars, hotels and truck stops, according to Mathias.
The group also would like to get its education program into schools.
"A lot of these girls have been trafficked and don't even realize it," Colton said.
While the team admits that organization is their weakest point, they are hopeful that public interest will help keep the ball rolling, according to McCoy.
To coordinate their efforts across the state, eleven human trafficking response teams will hold a conference in January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, according to Mathias. McCoy suggested asking the county commissioners from across the team's service area to issue a proclamation to promote awareness during that month.
"Prior to this, the awareness in (the Northern Tier) was next to nothing. But our hope and vision is that additional counties such as Potter, Centre and Clinton will see this and start their own response team," Lycoming County District Magistrate Judge James H. Sortman said.
Individuals interested in volunteering with the Human Trafficking Response team should contact Colton at email@example.com.