For her Gold Award in Girl Scouts, Urbana High School Senior Laura Hawk chose a big project — to educate the public about human trafficking. Hawk said that she wants to help prevent young girls from becoming victims.
In the United States, 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk of trafficking, according to Danielle Lohan, community partners liaison for the Maryland Rescue and Restore Coalition. “A child runaway will be approached by a pimp within the first 48 hours” of having run away, said Lohan.
Human trafficking can take the form of sex trafficking, in which traffickers force victims to be prostitutes or work in the sex industry. Human trafficking can also involve forced labor, child exploitation or organ harvesting.
Local awareness of human trafficking is important, said Hawk, because traffickers can recruit girls in the Urbana area. But many people are unaware of the problem. Hawk first learned about it this fall, at a presentation at her church.
Among other things, Hawk was made aware that prostitution is glamorized in the media, but human trafficking is “dark” and “scary” — not glamorous at all, she said.
Hawk plans to start giving presentations about human trafficking in Urbana and the surrounding region in January. She will speak at the Montgomery United Methodist church in Damascus, as well as for other organizations such as the Lions Club and the Rotary Club.
Hawk decided to get involved by raising awareness about human trafficking, because a large portion of her Girl Scout troop are Cadettes — young girls in the sixth to eighth grades who are 11 to 13 years old, and most at risk of falling prey to traffickers. She learned about how to speak about human trafficking to groups at The Samaritan Women organization in Baltimore. Organizers there say that Baltimore is one of the cities where human trafficking is most common, in part because the international airport and sports arena attract a lot of people from out of town, said Hawk.
A broad range of women are at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, said Hawk.
But the laws in Maryland often do not protect them, said Lohan. She said that in Maryland, young girls ages 16 to 18 are arrested for “prostitution,” because the state does not have the Safe Harbor Law, which protects minors from being charged with prostitution.
A trafficker’s appearance can be deceptive, according to Hawk. “A trafficker does not look like a trafficker. They look like a regular person – sometimes a really nice person,” she said. A predator may approach someone on Facebook by asking if they would like to get together and talk, she said. Or, a trafficker could try to recruit young women in a shopping mall by telling them that they are pretty, and asking if they would like to become a model.
Experts in human trafficking say that traffickers often try to recruit people who are lonely and looking for love. They give women special attention, love and gifts to gradually lure them in to becoming sex workers or being exploited in other ways. And women are often afraid to go to the police in fear that they will be arrested as prostitutes.
Hawk said she plans to tell everyone she can about the issue of human trafficking by giving presentations to civic organizations and other groups. Hawk, whose favorite classes are English, choir and Chinese, plans to attend college next year.
Hawk said her family is “very supportive” of her work to raise awareness about human trafficking, and pleased that she’s working on such a big issue.
For more information about human trafficking, please visit http://marylandcoalition.org/. To report any human trafficking activity, call the hotline at 1.888.3737.888.