Delawareans raise awareness on state's human trafficking issue

DELAWARE - "The work begins now," says Yolanda Schlabach.

Yolanda Schlabach runs a non-profit focused on human trafficking awareness, which is why she's encouraged that the state of Delaware is finally recognizing that human trafficking is an issue not only on the national level, but in local communities as well.

On Tuesday, Governor Markell designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Yolanda's work started half a decade ago and she admits at the time raising awareness about the problem wasn't easy.

"I was often told that doesn't happen here, we don't have stats here, and it doesn't happen here and it occurred to me that perhaps we don't have stats because we don't know what were looking for it doesn't mean it doesn't happen here it just means we haven't made any arrests yet," explains Yolanda.

Her non-profit is called Zoe Ministries. She started it with the hope of helping victims of human trafficking get access to treatment and support in Delaware.

Although she tells 47 ABC she soon realized raising awareness needed to happen first.

"For people to think this is not happening in Delaware, our surrounding states have task forces and statewide trained law enforcement to look for this. Delaware doesn't have that at this point and the human traffickers know that."

She found that not enough state leaders and local authorities were on the same page about how bad the issue was.

Plus, Yolanda says she couldn't focus on helping victims until all the necessary players were on board with combating the problem.

"Task forces are imperative, law enforcement training is absolutely imperative, and a trained kids department is vital," says Yolanda.
And Nancy McGee, a Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Network in Delaware, agrees. She says most people just don't know what to look for,  she says there are clear signs in massage parlors or even nail salons.

"You may see a business pop up or even one that's been established and you start thinking how come I never see any folks who work there leave. Nobody goes out for lunch, nobody runs to the post office, a normal kind of everyday things that you and I might do at our job," explains McGee.

If you see suspicious activity, state officials now say don't be afraid to report it.

According to Schlabach, Delaware authorities made their first three arrests for human trafficking in 2016.

If you suspect there may be a case of human trafficking in your area, the hotline number is 888-373-7888 or text 'HELP' to BeFree (233733).

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