Sex Trafficking
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Family Services Inc. hosted a presentation Tuesday at the Teen Center and Shelter in to warn residents of sex trafficking and its prevalence in Blair County. Sex trafficking can affect people of all ages, but especially children and teens, according to Family Services. Prevention counselor Cindy Estep said most people think of this affecting children in other countries. When parents think of trafficking, they might think of someone scooping up their child when they turn their back in public. "It isn't a matter of a 60 second pick up. Predators work these children, they groom these children, and it may take a year, it may take two years." That might seem like a long time, but Estep said that, for predators it's worth the wait. "When you think of the commodity of a child what they'll be making off that child is thousands and thousands of dollars off of that one body." She said people aren't aware that this is happening in the U.S., and that it's especially a problem in Central Pennsylvania. Altoona and the surrounding areas have easy access to several highways. People can get in and out of town quickly. That's an advantage for predators here, according to Family Services. Estep works with victims and survivors of human trafficking directly, and she sees how it affects them. "It steals their spirit, it steals their soul." A common misconception that Estep often hears is that victims are mostly girls, but she said young boys and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community are most at risk. The goal of Tuesday's presentation at the teen shelter was prevention, and counselors want to warn people who are around children and teens of the red flags. They said to pay attention to changes in a child's personality. If they pull away or stop caring about their appearance and hygiene these can be signs that something is wrong according to Family Services. Estep said she wants parents to know that the internet gives kids the world as their playground even if they're safe inside their home. She said parents need to know who their child is talking to on Snapchat, Facebook Instagram or any other online platform they frequently use. Parents often struggle with where to draw the line between protecting a child and violating their privacy when it comes to the internet. "I'd rather have a kid be mad at me than risk not having a kid at all." She also wants teens and younger kids to know that they don't need to handle a situation on their own. She said they can go to a trusted adult, even if a stranger has threatened them or their loved ones.