NEW HAVEN, Conn.. (WTNH) — Talk about tough days at work. The folks at the non-profit Love146 in New Haven see many of them. But they say it’s more than worth it.
“Oh I know we’re saving lives,” said Erin Williamson.
Love146 is a non-profit that helps children who are victims of sex trafficking. They provide counseling and emotional support to help children who get caught up in that world.
“These aren’t kids that are making bad decisions, said Erin Williamson, Director of the Survivor Care Program at Love146. “These are kids in really difficult places that are being manipulated by adults who are trying to take advantage of them.”
“These are kids that matter,” she said.
But, Erin says she often sees kids who, for whatever reason, have suffered from low self-esteem or who have not felt loved or cared for in their families. She says those are the kids traffickers often seek out.
“Often times, these children are at a point in their life where they don’t really see a future,” Erin said. “They don’t see a value.”
At Love146, they work to build up trust with the children to convince them that they should not be caught up in trafficking and that there are other people out there who care about them in a positive way.
Erin says many children end up being trafficked for pornography videos and magazines.
“It’s atrocious that this is happening,” Erin said.
How big is the problem of child sex trafficking in Connecticut?
“It’s surprisingly large,” Erin said. Last year, the DCF (Department of Children and Families) received referrals for 200 or 201, 202 confirmed youth victims. That’s a large number.”
Some cite Connecticut’s location between New York City and Boston, calling the northeast corridor “a highway for trafficking.”
But, Erin says she sees hope. In her opinion, the state of Connecticut is aggressively trying to fight trafficking. Just this week, several bills were introduced in Hartford that increase the penalties for traffickers and those who have sex with a minor.
For those who traffick anyone for sex, the penalty would go from a CLASS B felony to a CLASS A felony — carrying a penalty of up to 25 years behind bars. If you’re convicted more than once of paying to have sex with a child, you could end up on the sex offender registry, which currently does not happen in Connecticut.
Jillian Gilchrist is Chair of the state’s Trafficking in Persons Council.
“We have to diminish the demand,” she said.
She says arrests today of two trafficking suspects in Connecticut is significant.
“It is very significant,” Gilchrist said. “Since 2006, in the state of Connecticut, there have only been two convictions for trafficking at the state level so an arrest today means we are moving in the right direction.”
She hopes the bills make it to the full House and State Senate for a vote before the end of the current session in June.