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Gwynedd Mercy University continued its Mercy Week Celebration with a presentation on human trafficking given by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Stefanie Snyder in University Hall on Thursday.
Special Agent Snyder, who has been with the Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia Bureau since 2003, has worked on human trafficking cases for 10 years. She has worked to put traffickers in jail and has provided drug treatment, visas, and protection to victims and witnesses.
Special Agent Snyder works on both human trafficking and human smuggling cases, and there’s a stark difference, she said. Human smuggling is transportation-based and is usually voluntary. Residents of another country who want to live in America might pay a smuggler to help them cross the border. Human trafficking, however, is exploitation-based and is never voluntary. An example could be a pimp who coerces young girls into the commercial sex trade, and then keeps their earnings.
Sex trafficking, a $32 billion per year business, is the fastest-growing crime in the United States, Special Agent Snyder said. Financially, it is second only to drug trafficking.
“The sale of people has surpassed the sale of guns,” Special Agent Snyder said. The fact that women can be pimped out to multiple men in one day makes them more appealing to traffickers than drugs, which can only be sold for profit one time.
“They are a renewable, exploitable resource,” she said.
During her years working to stop human trafficking, Special Agent Snyder has tried to stop the spread of misconceptions about human trafficking, including that the women could just leave if they wanted, or that they are just drug-addicted criminals.
In fact, the group with the highest risk of being trafficked is “throw away youth,” or young people who are in foster care or have absent parents and families. Children who won’t really be missed if they are gone are more likely to fall into the hands of a pimp, who will coerce them into prostitution by acting at first like a father figure or boyfriend. Later, he will get the girls addicted to drugs so that they are dependent on him and under his complete control, Special Agent Snyder said.
The average age that girls enter into prostitution is around 13, she said. And each year in the United States, more than 300,000 children become victims of sexual exploitation. Homeland Security Investigations works with local and federal law enforcement officials to find and identify victims, and offer them any help they need in order to ensure their testimony. In some cases, drug rehabilitation is offered, or visas that allow victims who are in the United States illegally to remain here with legal status.
Special Agent Snyder’s presentation followed Wednesday’s Convocation, where Sister of Mercy Angela Reed, PhD shared her work telling the stories of those experiencing trafficking in the Philippines.
The best way to stop trafficking, both women said, is for observant neighbors to report any suspicious activity in their communities to 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. You can also report tips online.