From big cities to small towns, those investigating sex trafficking said it’s everywhere in Connecticut.
On Monday, a roundtable discussion at Quinnipiac University focused on helping those closest to the crime and how to spot the warning signs. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumethal is pushing for legislation on the federal level that would go after websites posting sex trafficking adds and hold them accountable.
While locally, law students at Quinnipiac University are teaming up with hotels and motels and training workers, so they could pick up on the clues when there is a problem.
"I remember thinking every person had taken a piece of me, every man that touched me took a little piece of me, “Theresa Leonard, who is a survivor of sex trafficking, said.
Leonard, who is now an advocate, shared her story about how she was trafficked as a young girl and exploited as an adult.
But sadly, to those huddled around a conference table at Quinnipiac University, they know there are so many more stories just like it.
"We get everything from big hotel chains to a bed and breakfast, small motels,” Leonard said.
Taylor Matook, who is a second-year law student at Quinnipiac, is part of a group of students and working with the human trafficking prevention program.
The project teams law students up with Marriott International to train hotel workers around the state.
"Different positions within the hotel and breaking it down with what signs you should spot, so if you're working at the front desk, if you're security, if you're inside the rooms cleaning,” Matook said. “What should you be seeing and if you see anything what do you do."
The idea is for the employees to tell a manager, a manager to call law enforcement or a trafficking hotline.
"I'm just one cog in this entire machine,” Quinnipiac University law student Edward Duarte said. “But to see everyone here that has their own part in preventing human trafficking is absolutely amazing."
On Monday, at the Human Trafficking Summit, organized by Blumenthal, those on the front lines, said it’s something that's still happening in Connecticut and many of the victims are children. The Department of Children And Families said last year, they had more than 200 unique referrals and this year, they're on pace to pass that.
"We know that there are people being brought from other countries, but Connecticut's problem is a domestic problem,” Prosecutor Brian Sibley said. “Every city, every town within Connecticut is experiencing this and if you don't believe it, ask, we can show you the numbers."
Leonard said the work by these advocates and law students gives her hope that others won't have to go through what she did. She added it starts with awareness and education.
"Nobody goes to a hotel to take a nap, nothing good is coming in those 3 hours,” Leonard said. “There is a lot that's been done but there is so much more that needs to be done and you guys absolutely brings hope."
DCF officials said they're trying an outreach program, a presentation to alert kids to the red flags that come with trafficking. They're hoping to expand that program into more schools.
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