SEPTA steps up to fight human trafficking

Posted on February 20, 2014 by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel at the 69th Street Transportation Center discussing SEPTA's human trafficking initiatives.
SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel at the 69th Street Transportation Center discussing SEPTA's human trafficking initiatives.

The 2014 Super Bowl brought more than the big game to the New York City/ North Jersey metropolitan area: the event created an increased awareness of the crime of human trafficking.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, sex trafficking generates $32 billion a year. And, major sporting and entertainment events can mean more opportunities for these crimes.  

Transit can certainly play a role in helping to stop human trafficking, considering the number of people who use buses, trains and trolleys or access depots and stations 24 hours a day.

In Philadelphia, just before Super Bowl Sunday, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Police Chief Thomas Nestel was joined by representatives from local social service agencies and a former human trafficking victim to discuss signs of the crime, law enforcement efforts and how the public can help.  

RELATED: "Human trafficking the focus of L.A. Metro program"

SEPTA's police department has altered its approach when dealing with prostitution.

"In the past, we focused on the person who was providing the service, not the person who controls the prostitute,” said Nestel. “The laws have changed over the past four to five years, allowing us to pursue those who are holding people against their will and forcing them to commit sex crimes."

SEPTA police officers have received specialized training from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office on how to prepare a trafficking case for prosecution.

"Our officers are asking questions beyond the arrest, to try to find out if the prostitute is being forced to work the streets and who is controlling her life," Nestel added. "We also have contact with social service organizations and can provide avenues of escape for trafficking victims."

The SEPTA Police Department works closely with the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition (PATC), a group whose 62 members represent law enforcement, social service and government agencies across the Philadelphia region. PATC provides training for people most likely to encounter or provide service to trafficking victims, including police officers and medical professionals, as well as support for victims, such as access to legal aid, advocacy and shelter.

Helping SEPTA’s — and Pennsylvania’s — crime fighting efforts is the passage of Pennsylvania Act 197. Under this law, establishments such as airports, train and bus stations, welcome centers and rest areas, massage parlors, spas, hotels and motels are required to post signage with the national trafficking hotline phone number (1-877-373-7888).

RELATED: "Minneapolis Metro campaign to help combat sex trafficking"

"We are asking the public and our employees to keep an eye out for pimps who appear to be preying on vulnerable young women at our transportation hubs or in the neighborhoods around our stations," said Nestel. “We are looking for runaways, for vulnerable young woman who might be hanging out at transit stations, seemingly out of place. Posting the hotline number, in addition to the training our officers have received should make a difference in getting victims the assistance they need and stopping these heinous crimes.”

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