The Sisters of St. Joseph of Northwestern Pennsylvania are committed to ongoing education and awareness about human trafficking in our country, our state, and our local community. Working with other organizations and individuals in our community, we work to keep this issue and its impact on our community at the forefront. Human Trafficking happens everywhere, even in our local community.
Erie is a Pass-through City
Erie is considered a “pass-through” city because of its proximity to several interstate highways. Traffickers pass through the area for a few days during which time victims are sold multiple times prior to moving to the next city.
Some of our local efforts include:
Coalition Force – Erie
Coordinated by the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University, Coalition Force – Erue is a collaboration that brings together more than 130 partners to work with government, law enforcement, and others to expand awareness of the trafficking problem.
Human Trafficking Task Force in Erie
In 2012, we were involved in launching a Human Trafficking Task Force in Erie. During its existence, much work was done to educate the community – particularly schools, teachers and civic groups on human trafficking. It was at this time that we began collaborating with the Crime Victim Center of Erie to reach out to the public. This collaboration expanded the education to the Emergency Room staff at both UPMC Hamot and Saint Vincent Hospitals where 90% of local trafficking victims are seen.
Awareness and Education
We collaborate with the Lutheran Women’s Association and Gannon University’s Center for Social Concerns who have placed more than 5,000 bars of specially wrapped soap in area hotel rooms as part of the SOAP (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) Project. The wrapper features the National Human Trafficking Hotline number.
We have reached approximately 1,500 people with our message through community presentations.
Other collaborative initiatives have led to training emergency room nursing staff, establishing a relationship with Customs and Border Patrol, increasing awareness among Mercyhurst and Gannon University students, training sessions with local law enforcement, sponsoring a 2-day workshop in 2012 on human trafficking in PA communities, presentations to the Department of Health and several civic groups.
We are working on getting signage in PA rest stops changed to heighten awareness to the public and to aid victims. This has involved meeting with numerous legislators. As a result, House Bill 1513, which would improve the signage and placement, was introduced by Rep. Bob Merski.
We sponsored the local debut of the film, “The Turn Out,” in January 2019. The film was based on real-life interviews with survivors of truck stop trafficking. After the film, we hosted a panel discussion which included representatives from local police departments, border patrol, an Erie County prosecutor, and the Crime Victim Center of Erie County.
We collaborated with Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority to display, at no charge, placards in local buses which describe trafficking and where to seek assistance.
We presented at the Erie County Drug and Alcohol Coalition annual seminar in June 2019.
We worked with State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro’s office to have January proclaimed Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the state of Pennsylvania.
We advocate in support of PA House Bill 1513 and Senate Bill 972 which will require replacement of existing signage in PA rest stops with updated, more relevant information and increased signage visibility for victims.
We continue to follow up with legislators, speak to groups and encourage the community to write/call legislators concerning pertinent human trafficking legislation.
We conduct prayer services to pray for victims of trafficking and for change of heart for the perpetrators. In August 2019, we were awarded the 2019 Human Rights Award by the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for bringing an awareness of human trafficking to the Erie area and beyond.