AUBURN — Earlier this month, two men and a woman were arrested in Gorham on sex trafficking charges.

The three were accused of arranging for a 19-year-old homeless woman to engage in sex acts with strangers for money through ads on a website. She fled the Gorham home after one of the trio threatened to sell her to a pimp in Boston for $30,000.

The problem of sex trafficking is often well hidden, but it’s also the largest growing crime in the world, said Liz Allen, spokeswoman at the Auburn Police Department.

People are stunned to learn that its not just a big city problem, but it’s happening where they live, she said.

Allen is organizer of the NOT HERE conference scheduled for April 10-11 at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. It’s the third time the organizers have held the event in Maine.

Allen said the conference attracts law-enforcement authorities, emergency medical responders, prosecutors, social service providers and faith-based organizations. The sold-out event’s more than 300 registrants hail from as far as California and Chicago, she said.

Eighteen police departments, from Old Town to South Berwick “and everywhere in between” will be represented at the conference, Allen said.

They will learn how to identify human trafficking and how to stop it, as well as how to care for victims of the crime.

Two survivors are scheduled to speak at the event.

Stephanie Henry of Texas endured a childhood shattered by molestation and rape. She battled drug use, eating disorders, domestic violence, a loss of child custody and a suicide attempt, according to her website. She not only lived to tell her story, but went on to become an advocate, speaker and author who calls attention to the “very issues that threatened to destroy her.”

Also presenting will be Jasmine Fiandaca, who was exploited into sex trafficking for eight years. She speaks about her experience at colleges, churches and other venues and serves as a mentor to at-risk youth girls. She earned a college degree and is currently writing a memoir.

The two-day schedule features Maine’s U.S. attorney and attorney general, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security, as well as experts on modern-day slavery, sex trafficking, poverty, civil rights and psychology.

Police Chief Phil Crowell Jr., along with Bill Legere, an emergency room nurse at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, founded the series in 2011.

“We are also working to build collaborations to meet the needs of aftercare — a safe place to heal and services to address a survivor’s changing needs as they move from freedom to recovery to independence,” Crowell said. 

Much has changed since the inception of the conference, Allen said.

“We were almost the only organization that was talking about this issue” three years ago, she said. “And now, it’s in the news almost daily.”

Area police departments are finding they have more cases of sex trafficking “than they know what to do with,” she said. After making the arrests, they aren’t sure how to help the victims.

Much of the conference is focused on workshops for professionals who will encounter the issue at one stage or another.

“It’s extraordinary,” she said. “It’s unlike any other conference, really.”

Legislation in the state has started to catch up with the problem, she said.

Just last month, a bill aimed at vacating prostitution convictions for victims caught up in sex trafficking was well received during a public hearing. The bill would also help fund victim recovery.

Maine is ranked as a second-tier state for ratings on human trafficking laws, up from a third-tier state in 2011.

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