Human trafficking happens everywhere—even in Erie. Because Erie is located on the intersection of I-90 and I-79, is two hours from I-80 and the Canadian border, Erie is considered a “pass-thru” city for traffickers. Handlers bring their victims to Erie for short periods of time to be sold multiple times before moving them on to a new location.
Just recently, Erie successfully prosecuted the first two defendants charged with trafficking of two girls, ages 15 and 16. Both defendants eventually pled guilty to the charges. In September 2017, Devonte Lucas was sentenced to 13 years in jail and 10 years of supervised release on his conviction of sex trafficking a child. His co-conspirator, Thomas Petoff, pled guilty in November 2017 and in April 2018 was sentenced to 14 years in prison for overseeing a multi-state trafficking scheme in which he transported the victims through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and eventually selling the girls in Florida. The girls were advertised for sale on the now shutdown backpage.com web page.
The survivors were eventually rescued at the El Patio Motel in Erie during a sting operation in conjunction with the Millcreek Police. During the sting, the agreed upon price for the sex act was $170. One of the survivors testified that Mr. Petoff knew she was under the age of 18 at the time the crimes were committed.
In an effort to bring awareness of human trafficking to the Erie area, we are collaborating with the Lutheran Women’s Association and Gannon University’s Social Concerns group to start the SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) initiative in Erie hotels. Small bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number are left in area hotel rooms in hopes that trafficking victims will find them and call for help. To date, we have placed soaps in 20 area hotels.
How can lay folks who are not law enforcement, etc., help in this situation? These predators need to be stopped immediately!! I suggest reaching out to schools for class time to be devoted to educating our youth….and faculty and staff!!
“This is one class you won’t want to sleep through! The information I will give you, may save your life!” Then speak with them on a personal level….home life, personal/social relationships…ever think of just running away or trusting someone online…. It would give students the chance to express some of what they’re going through, or at least deeply think about choices they’ve made or are planning to make. Hopefully it would start conversation among them. They could be given an easily-memorized phone number in case they ever find themselves in a dangerous situation.
~ Gigi Beatty
I am a Board Member
of St. James Haven, a temporary shelter for homeless men, in Meadville, PA.
The Haven is sponsored by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
In addition, our high school, at which the faculty was largely Franciscan Sisters, merged with a school whose faculty was largely SSJ. I have a great deal of love and respect for both.
I’m always so impressed with the work that you do. While I lived in Erie I knew very little about human trafficking but while obtaining a Masters degree from Edinboro University, I found my focus. I now have a PhD with my research interests focused on human trafficking.
A way to strengthen this program is to offer free awareness ‘red flag’ training to area hotels/motels for employees. They can be front line identifiers of sex trafficking and in some areas, workers in the hospitality industry are victims of labor trafficking.
unfortunately though, the motel workers are often being paid off to stay silent. it is a sick and cynical operation all around