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    Local News
    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Grant helps UCFS tackle child sex trafficking

    With $3,000 and a handful of compassionate clinicians, United Community and Family Services is tackling a problem often associated with other countries: child sex trafficking.

    The grant, awarded by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Foundation, will fund training for employees, education for the community and new therapy groups for at-risk youths.

    LeeAnn Page, manager of evidence-based practices for UCFS, said she and her colleagues learned of child trafficking’s prevalence a couple years ago, when children coming to UCFS for therapy or medical care said they had been victims of it.

    Each year, more than 200 children are referred to the state Department of Children and Families as high-risk or confirmed trafficking victims.

    “These issues were coming into our offices,” said Page, whose nonprofit has locations in Norwich, Griswold, New London, Colchester and Plainfield. “We realized we needed an organized response.”

    Julie Adams, a licensed professional counselor at UCFS’s Norwich Health Center, said trafficking presents in many ways. Mothers who are prostitutes sometimes get their children into the illicit field. Children who have run away from home may agree to have sex in exchange for a place to stay. Traffickers start romantic relationships with victims without revealing their ulterior motives.

    “I think a lot of people don’t want to believe it’s happening here,” said Kaylyn Hewey, a licensed clinical social worker based at the Plainfield Health Center.

    “But it can happen anywhere,” Adams said.

    Adams and Hewey are among the three UCFS clinicians who have been trained in Not A #Number, a curriculum developed by the nonprofit Love146. Wrought with current lingo, the curriculum teaches 12- to 18-year-olds how to protect themselves from human trafficking and exploitation.

    In one activity, for example, children are asked to look at pictures of people — firefighters, pastors, even a teenage cheerleader — and decide which ones have been charged with trafficking.

    They’re generally surprised to learn the answer is all of them.

    As part of the grant, trained UCFS clinicians will use the curriculum during group sessions for boys and girls who are victims or at risk of becoming victims. UCFS also plans to bring the curriculum to students by way of its school-based health centers in Montville and Norwich — a school-based clinician will be trained in it in the fall.

    “Teaching children about (child trafficking) is not going to increase the likelihood of it happening,” said Megan Cameron, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the New London Behavioral Health Office. “It’s going to empower them to take care of themselves. Knowledge always is empowering.”

    UCFS also plans to host social media presentations for students and parents. Not only is social media a place many traffickers scour to find victims, it’s also a topic that’s easier to digest than child trafficking.

    “Traffickers are savvy,” said Page, noting that any social site or phone application with a chat function can be used to reach children. “They act like they’re going to take care of you but their intentions are to make money. It’s a very lucrative industry.”

    To learn more about the Not A #Number group sessions for boys and girls, call LeeAnn Page at (860) 822-4217. To learn more about other services UCFS offers, visit UCFS.org.

    l.boyle@theday.com

    Vulnerabilities and warning signs

    VULNERABILITIES

    History of sexual abuse, neglect or domestic violence

    Family background in commercial sex

    Displacement by social or natural disaster

    Membership in an undocumented, stateless or ostracized group

    Poverty or family economic strain

    Unstable or inconsistent family conditions (i.e., parental absence or neglect, substance abuse, physical/sexual/emotional abuse, multiple foster homes)

    Running away or truancy

    Low self-esteem or self-worth

    Experimenting with risky sexual behaviors or drugs

    POTENTIAL RED FLAGS

    Is under 18 years old and performs commercial sex acts

    Is excessively monitored or controlled by parents, a supposed guardian or older "sponsor"

    Is detached or suddenly isolated from family members and friends

    Is unable to give answers about schedules or living and work locations/conditions

    Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story (age, place of birth, family life)

    Has excessive security measures at his/her home or work

    Has a noticeable change in dress, jewelry, hair or nails without explainable source of income

    Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse; appears fearful, anxious, depressed or submissive and avoids eye contact

    Suffers from substance abuse problems, other psychological disorders, sexually transmitted diseases or chronic illnesses

    Carries multiple hotel key cards, lots of money, sharp objects

    Suddenly has an older boyfriend

    Gets a tattoo with a name that is not his/her own and is reluctant to explain it

    Courtesy of Love146.

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