Senator Blumenthal holds meeting on sex trafficking with those impacted

NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The sex trafficking industry is worth tens of billions of dollars a year worldwide. Officials say sex trafficking is a problem here in Connecticut too.

Senator Richard Blumenthal held a summit at Quinnipiac University on Monday with victim advocates, students and survivors to discuss sex trafficking.

The Connecticut senator is leading efforts in the Senate to ensure that websites that facilitate sex trafficking are held liable. His bill has 30 co-sponsors.

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Theresa Leonard is a sex trafficking survivor. Her own mother sold her when she was just a child. She still has vivid memories of what happened to her.

“Sleeping in a closet because my mom was getting high in the other room, money that came from me at 11-years-old,” Leonard said.

She now supports other survivors and works to help prevent trafficking. She shared her story at the summit. Hotel representatives were there, since experts say many child victims are kept in hotels. Quinnipiac University law students are working with Marriott International to train workers to identify and prevent sex trafficking.

Senator Blumenthal is pushing for more action.

“I am fighting for a law that in effect will open the courthouse doors to survivors who have been sold for sex, children who have been exploited,” he said.

Highways like Interstate 95 are also used for sex trafficking, but experts say it can happen anywhere. That’s why law students like Alyssa DeDominicis were at the summit and are joining the fight against sex trafficking.

“It’s very difficult to understand because it’s something that we don’t think is happening here,” DeDominicis said.

The Department of Children and Families received more than 200 referrals for potential sex trafficking victims last year alone. That’s up more than 60 from 2015.

“Often our kids do not know they’re victims,” said Tammy Sneed of DCF. “They do not see themselves as victims. They’re afraid to go to law enforcement.”

DCF has gotten more than 500 referrals since 2008. Leonard is working to lower that number, and to help the victims heal.

“I remember thinking that every person had taken a piece of me,” she said. “Every man that touched me took a little piece of me.”