When it comes to sex trafficking, Maryland is considered a “hot zone.”
To some experts, Anne Arundel County is the fifth largest hotspot for trafficking in the country, according to Maryland State Sen. Bryan Simonaire.
He heard the statistic while at a conference on the issue. It lead him to introduce more legislation.
With the number of sex trafficking victims on the rise in Maryland, activists like Simonaire have taken their own approach to helping and are seeing results.
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Kendis Paris, executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking, said her organization approached the issue in a unique way.
“At any given time there are thousands of truck drivers driving along the country,” she said. “They are like the second police force.”
In 2011, Paris started the organization to educate truckers on how to spot a potential trafficking situation, especially at rest stops.
To educate, the nonprofit partners with trucking organizations around the country, providing learning material and trainings.
In just three years, the group's efforts have helped lead to an upswing in drivers reporting sex trafficking situations, growing from three calls to help lines to 300 in 2013.
“Those were calls from truckers,” she said. “Awareness is making a huge difference.”
Maryland has embraced the initiative, Paris said, with Maryland law enforcement agencies coming to TAT trainings and using the learning material.
Simonaire said he first became concerned about sex trafficking when his daughter returned from a conference on it.
As a father of seven children, he was taken by what she had to say.
“I have five girls,” he said. “I would never want this to happen to them.”
Since last year, Simonaire has continuously introduced legislation to better address victims of sex trafficking.
In the last session, he introduced a resolution that asked the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force to perform a specific study on how to treat minor trafficking victims.
“Treating them as criminals isn’t the answer,” Simonaire said. “Effective treatment plans need to be set in place.”
The most critical time after trafficking or a sexual assault is the recovery process.
That’s where self-defense can be vital according to Tzviel “BK” Blankchtein, who teaches techniques to anyone interested.
As the owner of Masada Tactical in Pikesville , the self-defense instructor hosts free clinic each year to help recovering victims.
He says those who participate leave with a positive mindset and with new skills they can use in the event a situation might arise.
“It’s about empowerment,” Blankchtein said. “This is what self-defense can offer.”
Blankchtein opened his self-defense studio in 2007. He partners with local shelters to offer the classes.
He also makes regular trips to high schools to teach high school seniors basic techniques.
In nearly eight years, he’s taught hundreds of people.
“You never know when that situation will rise, you hope it never does,” he said. “Learning these moves not only helps with preparation, but it can play a key role in helping victims get better.”
For Amelia Rubenstein, executive director of TurnAround, it’s the small things that help lead to bigger success.
Since 2011, the organization has helped 250 victims of human trafficking.
The approach is intense, but effective.
“This is a group that has experienced intense psychological abuse,” she said. “That’s a priority we are working to address so progress can be made.”
The group uses a robust regime of counseling, emergency shelter, and advocacy services to assist those who are victims.
Rubenstein said TurnAround also runs a transitional home where victims can stay for a period of six to 18 months.
According to TurnAround statistics, about 70 percent of the victims served come from the Maryland area, while 30 percent come from out of state.
Only two percent are from overseas.
As sex trafficking becomes a bigger topic for lawmakers, Rubenstein said more resources need to be dedicated to help victims.
“There are some places in Maryland where groups don’t exist to deal with sex trafficking,” she said. “Expanding that needs to be a priority.”