Today's guest blogger is John Ducoff, executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania. This is the second in a series on human trafficking.

Last week, you learned more about human trafficking that is happening right here in Philadelphia. As we continue to bring awareness during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we want to stop the victim blaming that often occurs when someone finds out that a young person has been trafficked.

At Covenant House, we want to help those who have been victims of human trafficking, but so often victims/survivors don't come forward because they don't want to be blamed for what has happened. Victim blaming also reinforces to victims what the abuser has done and makes the victim feel like it's his or her fault. Many times, victims don't realize they've been trafficked because they're brainwashed to feel like they are doing it for a purpose. If they don't agree to everything, these victims are often physically abused.

The premise of those who would blame these trafficking survivors is that they must have chosen this life, so they are accountable for the consequences of that decision.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A trafficking survivor isn't like the streetwise lady of the night with a heart of gold depicted in movies and on TV.  These are kids who have been thrown out on the street by the people who were supposed to care for them until a trafficker snatches them up and delivers this chillingly effective threat:  do this or I'll kill you and everyone you ever cared about.  Or the trafficker who convinces this vulnerable child that he loves her and tells her that she'd do this for him if she truly loved him too.  That's not choice.  That's fraud and coercion, compulsion and victimization.

Just last year, 75 human trafficking cases were reported in Pennsylvania in 2015 through September. Next to drug dealing, it's the second largest criminal industry in the world. So why haven't we taken more measures to stop and help these victims? As we mentioned before, more than 10,000 endangered runaways were reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and of those, one in six were likely the victims of child sex trafficking. This is a number we must work to decline.

We want to urge the community to stop blaming these victims for the situations they are involved in. Many times they come from abusive families or the streets and just want the feeling of being wanted or loved which is what they think pimps provide them.

We like to provide every young person with simple acts of kindness regardless of their history when they walk through our doors. It's one of our missions to combat trafficking by providing these youth with a safe and secure place to stay.

To learn more about human trafficking in Pennsylvania, sign up for one of our webinars taking place each Friday during Human Trafficking Awareness Month. We'll also continue posting about human trafficking to bring awareness. Let's work together to protect these young people and help give them the support and love they need.

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