Homeland Security, local officials fight human trafficking

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Officials call it a crime swept under the carpet for far too long. (WPVI)

Homeland Security and local law enforcement officials are teaming up to stop human trafficking in the Delaware Valley.

It's a crime that, officials say, has been swept under the carpet for far too long.

"Human trafficking is a horrific crime. It's a global problem with local impact," said Brian Michael of Homeland Security.

They are launching a broad-based task force to crack down on this modern day human slavery, which largely involves forced prostitution and other crimes.

They'll work with the FBI, the district attorney's office, the Salvation Army and, of course, the police.

They say the crime has, for too long, not received enough attention, because too many see it as a scourge among undocumented immigrants from Mexico to Thailand.

"We just made assumptions about what human trafficking looks like, and in many cases many people think it's just foreign-born people," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

The Salvation Army will be deeply involved in trying to provide services to victims discovered in the city, suburbs and even out in the countryside.

"It lurks in the shadows, often hidden from headlines. But nevertheless, it effects thousands of innocent men, women and children - all traumatized, innocent victims," said Col. Steven Banfield of the Salvation Army.

Four trafficking arrests in Philadelphia over the last year are still going through the justice system.

And perhaps the most prominent case of all: the 2011 arrest of Linda Weston, who is now serving life for the cruel exploitation of four mentally handicapped people.

"Chaining people in a dungeon, forcing them to have sex with men, and forcing them to fight with each other, and stealing their social security," said Asst. Philadelphia DA Jim Carpenter.

"In local law enforcement, this is something that has flown beneath the radar, and I think that is the issue," said Ross. "And I think, nationally."

Authorities say to look for major, ongoing operations in the area targeting human trafficking.
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philadelphia newsHuman Trafficking
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