Project PA | 60% of sex, human trafficking victims once involved in foster care system

    Several nationwide studies show as many as 60 percent of sex and human trafficking victims in the United States were once in foster care. (WJAC)

    It's a heartbreaking statistic.

    Several nationwide studies show as many as 60 percent of sex and human trafficking victims in the United States were once in foster care.

    Brian Sheehan takes a look at the numbers and how they relate to victims in Pennsylvania for Project PA: Children in Crisis.

    It may be hard for you to imagine. Many children involved with the foster care system finding themselves a victim of one of the worst types of crimes imaginable. Experts say sex trafficking is happening here in the United States in the shadows and is affecting our most vulnerable populations.

    Children and youths in foster in Central Pennsylvania may find themselves targets for sex traffickers, according to Rhonda Hendrickson with the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg.

    "Traffickers prey on those vulnerabilities in our children," Hendrickson said. "We have seen about 250 victims since 2014. Out of those, we probably have about 10 or 12 that are actually minors."

    Hendrickson says a majority have some connection to the foster care system. But it's unclear how many of those adults were once in the system, too.

    "It really is difficult to track. Human trafficking victims, whether it's a child or an adult, don't typically identify their own victimization," Hendrickson said.

    According to the National Foster Youth Institute, 60 percent of all child victims nationwide have a history in the child welfare system. Many of them found during FBI raids of sex trafficking rings across the country.

    Hendrickson says children and youths in foster care are easy targets since many lack the protective factors of other people their age.

    "A mother and a father in the home. A stable home environment with stable housing. Other adults that care about you. Teachers, coaches, a good education," she said.

    The institute states "flaws in the foster care system have led too many children into a life of exploitation and prostitution." Hendrickson says progress is being made in terms of tracking and preventing it from happening, more needs to be done before it's too late.

    "We need to find a better way to get to them. Whether it's foster care workers understanding what trafficking looks like, Children and Youth agencies have been great in responding to human trafficking. But we really need people on the ground understanding what trafficking looks like," Hendrickson said.

    What can foster parents do to prevent human trafficking?

    Human trafficking is closely linked to children in foster care, and as a foster parent, it"s crucial to be educated on the topic so you can do your best to help prevent or stop it in its tracks. In this post, we"ll teach you what to look for and how to help fight the battle against human trafficking.

    Right now, the YWCA is actually working to fight human trafficking in our area through a grant they received. It's one of the largest in the state. Hendrickson says the grant has allowed them to increase identification of victims by as much as 200 percent.

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