Expert tells Clarion audience human trafficking still on rise

Corinna Slusser was a coed at Bloomsburg University before she moved to New York City.

She then became a victim of sex trafficking while in New York, according to Karen Dwyer, an intelligence analyst with the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center.

“Corinna Slusser went missing in 2017. Her family believes she was murdered by her pimp,” said Dwyer, who spoke Thursday at Clarion University.

The man was eventually sentenced to 15 years for trafficking, according to Dwyer, and Slusser still has not been found four years later.

“Trafficking can happen anywhere, small towns or big cities,” said Dwyer. She said common venues for sex trafficking include escort services, within homes, or on the street.

Labor trafficking is different than sex trafficking. Dwyer said most cases often involve domestic work, farming and landscaping, and street begging or panhandling.

Sex and labor trafficking can intersect in businesses such as massage parlors, bars and strip clubs.

Dwyer said traffickers manipulate their victims to build relationships of trust and dependence.

“These types of grooming behaviors can happen in person or online, and traffickers and their recruiters will often target young people they perceive to be vulnerable,” she said.

Dwyer said there are many ways a trafficker might manipulate their intended victims.

“Often, the tactics may seem obvious — threatening to harm or kill the victim or their loved ones,” she said.

Traffickers may use less overt tactics such as extortion, debt bondage, threatening deportation, withholding legal documents or influencing legal proceedings, using drugs or addiction to control the victim, isolating a victim from family and friends, or making promises of love, fame or fortune.

“Victims of trafficking come from all walks of life, and may be foreign nationals or U.S. citizens,” said Dwyer. “Women and girls make up the majority of reported victims.”

She said people who identify with under-represented or underserved communities or who are perceived as vulnerable may be at greater risk of exploitation.

“It is a major problem,” said Dwyer.

Dwyer said people should be aware of behavioral red flags that include a child having a significant change in behavior, avoiding answering questions or lets others speak for him or her, appearing frightened, resistant or belligerent to law enforcement, lying about his or her age and identity, and using trafficking-related terms like “trick” or “the life.”

Physical red flags include the child having multiple cell phones or electronic devices, child having large amounts of cash or pre-paid credit cards, child having no ID, or the child having a name or symbol tattooed, burned or branded onto his or her body. The tattoo indicates money or ownership.

“The best thing we can do is be aware and tell someone,” Dwyer said.