Human trafficking response involves legislators, shelters

PORTLAND, Maine -Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine program manager Katie Kondrat helps victims of human trafficking at Preble Street in Portland and says it has a broader definition than most people realize.

Many who have worked as prostitutes are homeless and are addicted to drugs. She said others know their abusers, who use trust to exploit them.

“We’re talking about people who are vulnerable and exploited, and being taken advantage of or being sold and someone else is benefiting– that’s what the definition is– and if you look closer, it’s happening in a lot of places,” Kondrat said.

She and members of the law enforcement community say they are seeing an increase in people being forced into Maine’s sex trade.

“As soon as we start asking the questions, looking at the issue a little bit closer, we see more and more victims and more and more exploitation,” she said.

State Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said that another concern is that officers arrest victims on prostitution charges. She is proposing a law to end that.

“They can show them in the law, listen, we’re not interested in sending you to jail, we’re interested in getting to the people that are victimizing you,” Volk said.

The bill would also increase fines for people who hire prostitutes and funnel extra funds to victim support groups.

Kondrat sees the proposals as a step in the right direction and wants victims to be aware of the help that exists today.

“Traffickers make sure someone feels ashamed, and that no one will help them and we want people to know that there are people who believe you, that you have a right to access services and support, and I think long-term goals as a community is figuring out how we help people heal,” she said.