Prince George’s County Councilwoman Karen Toles (D-Dist. 7) of Suitland said she is looking to draft legislation this year to address human trafficking and is looking at how the county can better monitor its foster children population to prevent them from falling into crimes such as prostitution, she said.
“Protecting our children is a top priority,” she said Saturday at a forum in District Heights hosted by the county’s Human Relations Commission. “Hopefully, some of the things we put in place can resonate across the state and serve as a model.”
Prince George’s is part of a zone for human trafficking that stretches from nearby Washington, D.C. to points north such as New York City, officials said to the crowd of about 150 people.
Forum organizers say the event was the first step to finding new solutions to human trafficking and their accompanying issues such as sexual and child exploitation.
Human trafficking, which can involve everything from organ harvesting to domestic servitude, has risen to the world’s second largest criminal enterprise behind drug trafficking — generating an estimated $32 billion a year, according to information from the United Nations.
Donnell Turner, a deputy state attorney, said the county’s state’s attorney’s office hopes that the state legislature can pass rules to make it easier for officials to shut down hotels that allow prostitution.
David Coleman, who leads the county police’s vice intelligence unit, said the full scale of the problem within the county is difficult to measure. Human trafficking crimes can be reported as prostitution, domestic incidents or assaults that do not detail the human trafficking aspect, officials said.
Prince George’s County is particularly appealing to traffickers and pimps as the region features major highways, mass transit options and housing that can serve to house and rapidly move people, officials said.
People who lack community, family or social support tend to be at a higher risk of falling victim to exploitative practices, said Jeanne Allert, founder and executive director of Samaritan Women, a Baltimore-based charity that works with those impacted by human exploitation and trafficking.
The United States is the No. 1 consumer of human beings with an estimated $11-to $14-billion industry, according to information presented by Allert.
“What we have is a challenge in our modern day slavery era,” she said. “We can’t see the shackles.”