FARMINGTON — As a teen mother in Maine struggling to survive, Tricia Grant was easily drawn into the world of human sex trafficking.

Grant will share her story and her road to survival during two human trafficking awareness events planned for April 6 and 7 in Farmington. 

The first event takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6, at The Landing in Olson Student Center at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The second event is planned from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7, in The Forum on the Mt. Blue Campus.

The film, “Stand With Me,” based on a young girl’s dream to end global slavery, will also be shown.

Human trafficking is a growing industry in Maine communities and Maine youth are its primary targets, community visionary and advocate Lillian Lake said in a release.

Lake and Nicole Coffey Kellett, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Maine at Farmington, have organized the events with partnership from the area schools and organizations.

Along with learning about human trafficking, the event is an opportunity for people to reach out and gain support. Representatives from Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services and Safe Voices will be there to offer support and information, she said.

During a similar event held two years ago at Mt. Blue, a parent came up and shared the story of her daughter’s experience with human trafficking, Kellett said.

It is not only about sex trafficking — it’s also labor trafficking, Lake said. 

Both have existed for some time, although there is more awareness of sex trafficking, Kellett said. Some industries more prone to labor trafficking can include traveling fairs, restaurants, traveling salespeople and agriculture.

Labor trafficking is often not seen as human trafficking, but it is, by definition. When the victim is coerced or forced in to these situations, there is a slippery slope between exploitation and trafficking, she said.

Labor trafficking is a growing problem, and Maine is a targeted area for sex trafficking. In areas experiencing a higher level of poverty such as Franklin County, there is more history of sexual abuse and more vulnerability, she said. 

Awareness of the issue is growing, albeit slowly.

“Five years ago, when I first started talking with people in the community, or really in the state, it was nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about trafficking or take any interest,” Lake said.

“The response was, ‘Does that really happen here?'” she said. With little media attention, “only those of us directly working with the topic were aware it existed.”

During the first awareness event two years ago, there was some interest locally, but less awareness of labor trafficking being a problem, even though it was a serious one, Lake said. 

“It is hard to track human trafficking, and governments around the world tended to turn a blind eye,” she said.

There is currently more interest, she said, although in the U.S., we are only beginning to scratch the surface.

“Other states are developing training programs on how to address and identify victims of human trafficking,” Lake said. “It is estimated there are 21 million victims of trafficking worldwide, but much of the labor trafficking goes under-reported.”

Maine has a new Governor’s Task Force to address the issue of sex trafficking, but there is little help available with the labor-trafficking problem. Domestic workers are the largest growing number of victims, she said.

As her students became interested in the topic through a class she was teaching, Kellett also gained awareness of the issue in Maine.

Lake and Kellett connected and started the program locally to raise awareness, Kellett said.

Last fall, Kellett and students attended the Not Here: Justice in Action Conference: Maine Governor’s Summit to Address Human Trafficking. Lake serves on Not Here’s planning committee.

Mental health services understand the need to address the mental health needs of victims but funding is needed on all levels — rescue, training, prevention and recovery, Lake said.

Both events are open to the public.

Lake and Kellett partnered with RSU 9, SAPARS, Safe Voices, the International & Global Studies Program and Campus Violence Prevention Coalition at UMF to offer the awareness events and discuss what can be done to stop this crime against humanity.

More information about what people can do to help is available on Lake’s resource page found at www.lillianlake.com/human-trafficking.  

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