By Nashia Kamal
The University’s School of Nursing offered an elective on human trafficking this fall. The course was taught by several professors in the college’s faculty.
As part of the course, the School of Nursing offered a presentation, “Human Trafficking in the Streets of Southeastern Pennsylvania,” on Monday, Oct. 22, in the Driscoll Auditorium in order to educate students on the issues surrounding human trafficking.
The presentation hosted Special Agents Rosemarie Vesci and Michael Goodhue from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who work in the Philadelphia area to combat human trafficking.
“The city of Philadelphia is in the top 15 to 20 in the U.S. when it comes to [domestic] sex trafficking,” Vesci said. “It’s in every city, but it’s a big enough problem here that we had to bring in our own task force.”
A major reason for the city’s vulnerability to human trafficking activity is its proximity to other major cities such as New York City, Washington D.C., Atlantic City and Boston, making transport of victims a quick task.
“When I first started working this I didn’t really understand what they meant by ‘juvenile prostitution,’” Vesci said. “To me this was something that happened in Thailand or some other country, not in the United States. When I first started working it, and we were finding these girls who were 13, 14, 15 and 16 here in the United States, in Philadelphia, even in Delaware County…who were forced into prostitution…I was sort of shocked and couldn’t really understand until I got to know the girls. They all have a story and they all have a reason…they all ended up in situations out of their control.”
The presentation emphasized that the juveniles who are drawn into the human trafficking industry are not considered criminals, but rather, victims.
Many of these girls are young, vulnerable and at risk due to difficult home lives. They are sought out by sex traffickers in malls, outside of schools and through social media such as Facebook by promising modeling careers and “easy money.”
“Many of the girls who are brought in come from horrible homes where the parents are drug addicts or from foster care, “ Goodhue said. “A lot of girls run away from foster care and get involved in these situations.”
One of the professors teaching the elective, Michelle Morgan, is a Villanova University School of Law ‘97 alumna who is experienced in the area of study.
She currently serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Pennsylvania, acting as a federal prosecutor for nine counties, including Montgomery County.
Morgan often works with human trafficking cases, prosecuting those behind the domestic prostitution of juveniles.
She explained that the average life span of an individual once they enter into human trafficking is usually seven years.
The average rate in Philadelphia for prostitution is approximately $150 per hour, and females reported having about 5 to15 dates per day.
However, most of these girls usually only get to keep half of this money, often spending it on drug habits that human trafficking panderers fuel.
Alarmingly, for juveniles in prostitution, the profit is usually zero percent. What makes the industry appealing to the girls is often the conviction that they are “being taken care of.”
“Their idea of being taken care of is staying in a trashy hotel room and eating fast food occasionally,” Goodhue said. “But for a lot of these girls, the alternative is staying with [family] that abuses or molests them and not eating at all.”
According to Vesci, the profiles of victims of sex trafficking are usually individuals who seek affection, love and attention.
Sex traffickers often disguise their initial advances as flattery and doting, making the girls dependent and enamored.
“A lot of the women we bring in will [genuinely believe] these men are their boyfriends,” Vesci said. “It’s a psychological process as well.”
Agents like Vesci and Goodhue strive to discover cases of juvenile prostitution in order to apprehend and prosecute the procurers. Ads for “dates” will often be posted on websites such as Backpage, which are reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or Project Polaris, a private nonprofit organization that strives to combat sex trafficking.
The federal agents also work with district attorneys like Morgan and local law enforcement to track down and sentence predators.
The greatest difficulty, however, lies not in finding the victims, but convincing them to cooperate. Often, in order to prevent the girls from reengaging in prostitution and drug abuse, law enforcement officials are forced to detain the girls in detention and rehabilitation centers. This makes the girls feel even more victimized and sidelined.
A key objective for people like Morgan, Vesci and Goodhue is to raise awareness and to combat the stigmas that make it difficult to offer help and guidance to the young women.