Two years ago, Paula Gentile attended a Catholic Relief Services talk at Our Lady of the Chesapeake Catholic Church (OLC) on the topic of human trafficking. Before attending, Gentile said she didn’t know anything about human trafficking, which includes both sex and labor exploitation, and certainly not about its prevalence in Anne Arundel County. The discussion was riveting; the causes and effects of human trafficking, shocking.
To spread awareness of human trafficking, and to provide parents and guardians information to help keep their children safe from entrapment in this insidious crime, OLC, in coordination with the Maryland Catholic Conference and Aglow International, will host, “Human Trafficking in Anne Arundel County — Protect Our Children,” on Wednesday, April 22, at 7:00pm at OLC, located at 8325 Ventnor Road in Pasadena.
Gentile, the Respect Life ministry leader at OLC, said she was moved to highlight the issue with parish parishioners. Pope Francis has said of human trafficking, “Trafficking seriously damages humanity as a whole, tearing apart the human family as well as the body of Christ.”
Gentile said, “This quote by Pope Francis is a mandate not just to the Catholic church, but to everyone, that we must become aware of the evils of human trafficking.”
In January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, OLC members highlighted the issue over a five-week period in their bulletin. The next step, Gentile said, would be to do more.
In a 2017 Baltimore Magazine article by Ron Cassie entitled “Children of the Night,” the author wrote, “sex trafficking is Maryland’s dirty open secret.” He further contended that the ongoing crisis is “hidden in plain sight.”
The belief that people are trafficked only in poor countries, or in large and dangerous U.S. cities, is not supported by data provided by the Maryland agencies assigned to the issue. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Maryland consistently ranks in the top four states per capita in trafficking cases, trailing only Nevada, California and Ohio. Based on reports of suspected child sex trafficking data, the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work ranks Anne Arundel County fifth in terms of reports statewide (2013–2018), as reported by the school’s Child Sex Trafficking Victims Initiative.
In the Cassie article, Maryland State Police Seargant Deborah Flory of the state’s Child Recovery Unit said that Maryland’s proximity to I-95, I-70 and BWI airport, as well as the state’s mix of wealth and poverty, makes people - primarily young women - especially vulnerable to traffickers.
As recently as January 31, Anne Arundel County police arrested a man in Linthicum on sex trafficking charges, and in December 2019, news outlets reported that more than 20 people had been arrested throughout 2019 in Anne Arundel County on trafficking charges. At least one person listed Pasadena as a permanent address. A Severna Park man was arrested in Montgomery County on trafficking charges last May.
Like Gentile, Ed Thomas is also a Pasadena resident who was introduced to human trafficking at a conference held several years ago. “I went to a conference as a guest of my wife. I didn’t know what human trafficking was, but it was a free workshop, so I sat in,” said Thomas, who is now the Aglow International mid-Atlantic region’s anti-human trafficking coordinator.
“The public is unaware that human trafficking, sex and labor exploitation occurs in their communities and that there are steps they can take to prevent and stop trafficking,” said Thomas.
Thomas added that most of the trafficked children are not undocumented immigrants, nor are they addicted to drugs or alcohol. They come from wealthy families and poor families. They do not need to be runaways to be trafficked, nor do they need to be living on their own.
“Trafficking is the second most profitable crime in the United States,” said Thomas. “Unlike drugs, which need to be remanufactured, humans can be exploited over and over again in a single day. Traffickers can make hundreds of thousands of dollars by reselling the same product.”
In addition to Thomas, the event will feature Anne Zmuda Wallerstedt, esquire, the associate director of social and economic justice at the Maryland Catholic Conference. Wallerstedt is the co-chair of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force Legislative Committee, of which Thomas is also a member. Representatives of the Anne Arundel County Police Department and Maryland state government will be in attendance.