MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (DC News Now) — Advocates in Montgomery County spoke out about the importance of protecting yourself and those around you from sex trafficking.
Their main message? Any of us can become a victim at any moment — but all of us can do something to put a stop to it.
The Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking said that prevention starts with being educated on what to look for.
“It’s so critical for the community to know what to look for so that we cut it off on the front end so that people aren’t being victimized,” Director Patrick McKenna said.
Police recently arrested 34-year-old Pedro DeJesus Perez Oliveros on sex trafficking charges. He was accused of advertising cleaning jobs on Facebook, then telling women they could make extra money as an escort before holding them to a life of prostitution.
One woman stated that he wouldn’t let her quit unless she paid him $10,000.
While anyone could become a victim of trafficking, advocates said that anyone who doesn’t have a great support system, anyone looking for work or anyone who has recently arrived in the U.S. are most vulnerable.
Debbie Feinstein with the Montgomery County States Attorney’s Office said human trafficking often has the same grooming process as child abuse. She emphasized that it is important for those around victims to look for the warning signs — like changes in behavior or suddenly having more money.
“We see a lot of cases where primarily women in our house together — their phones are provided by the trafficker their lifeline, their money, what they eat — I mean, literally everything is controlled by that person. And I think it’s… watching out for that power and control dynamic,” Feinstein said.
Montgomery County has a Human Trafficking Task Force with resources for anyone looking to learn more or take action. The Virginia Coalition Against Human Trafficking also has resources on its website.
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