Rep. Pam Staneski Op-ed: Human Trafficking

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Milford and Orange are beautiful New England towns that have so much to offer. We boast great school, sound local governments, a plethora of cultural activities, and beautiful beaches and rolling hills—a quality of life many envy.

This is why I struggle with writing this month’s issue; because, like you, I value our quality of life and want to protect it. However, sometimes protecting it means facing the reality that there are activities that could tarnish that quality if not left unchecked. I am referring to businesses that set-up shop along the Post Road and mimic legitimate massage therapy establishments while covering up their real business—human trafficking.

It is regrettable that our proximity to NYC has lent itself to this unwanted activity (that appears to originate out of Flushing, NY) in our community, and most unfortunate for legitimate massage therapists caught up in this fight when their work provides therapy for health and wellbeing.

To be clear, our local leaders, public health directors, and police departments are very aware of this and work collaboratively to combat human trafficking within our communities. Municipal ordinances have been passed to regulate their business operations, surprise inspections are done to enforce health issues, and stings are conducted to ‘catch’ the perpetrators.

Policing and regulating is like a game of whack-a-mole as the level of sophistication used by these operators is stunning. They operate like mom and pop shops, but are in fact connected to a national network. They work in unison, and when one place is shut down, another place opens.

Connecticut has enacted criminal penalties for traffickers and formed, through legislative action, task forces comprised of stakeholders to address the horrific practice of human trafficking. There are also many organizations that provide services and help for victims. However, to build on this work and address the activities in our community, I met with the members of the CT Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association to discuss how they can help prevent their industry from being used to shield human trafficking. It is those discussions that prompted me to a request an amendment that would add a member of CTAMTA to the Trafficking in Persons Council, and it is why I support SB-301, which will increase initial education hours for licensure of massage therapists and require supervised clinical/internship experience. This is not a panacea to stop human trafficking—it is more complicated than that; however, education, public awareness, enforcement, will help our anti-trafficking efforts.

The State Legislature statutorily created a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Council. TIP Council’s members come from diverse backgrounds, including representatives from State agencies, the Judicial Branch, law enforcement, motor transport and community-based organizations.  The TIP Council is responsible for consulting with governmental and nongovernmental organizations in developing recommendations to strengthen state and local efforts to prevent trafficking, protect victims of trafficking, and prosecute traffickers.

As always please feel free to contact me on this or any matter that is of importance to you.