Human trafficking advocates worry about underreporting in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) — In the month now recognized as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, investigators with the West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force arrested 15 people linked to prostitution, drugs and human trafficking.

North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force Chairman Pat McCay explains that recovering from human trafficking victims is difficult.

“Heavy, heavy trauma. It’s quite an important counseling and therapy that they need to go through in order to get back to a normality that they can live with,” McCay said.

McCay says the worst thing is that human trafficking usually happens right under our noses. Human trafficking involves the use of force, deceit, or coercion to lure people into any type of work or commercial sex.

The Department of Homeland Security calls the crime a form of “modern day slavery,” and McCay says she can only agree.

“You’re forced to have many different intimate relationships in one day, it’s not normal. And that’s modern slavery,” she said.

The development director of The WellHouse in Birmingham, a nationwide shelter for sex trafficking victims, says victims of human trafficking tend to have something in common.

“Adverse childhood experiences,” said Leah Sanderson. “This can look like sexual assault at a young age, it can look like neglect at home, it can look like homelessness or being in a foster care system at a young age. All of these things can contribute to becoming a victim of human trafficking.”

Madison County Assistant District Attorney Tim Gann says they don’t see human trafficking cases very often. Huntsville Police Department officials said they have no cases of human trafficking in our area.

According to McCay, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. She goes on to explain that there has been an uptick in Alabama recently during the pandemic.

“We know this has been happening more frequently during COVID,” McCay said. “People lost their jobs, they needed rent money, they do drugs, they need drug money. That’s one of the reasons, if you will, for trading with her own family members.”

The silver lining is that the problem doesn’t appear to be that bad in Madison County. However, both experts said they are concerned about all the cases that go unreported.

Both leaders of The WellHouse and the North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force will be present at the Alabama Human Trafficking Summit in Montgomery on January 26th and 27th.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the national helpline at: 1-888-373-7888.

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