Two Southington high school graduates will hold a virtual training session on preventing human trafficking in April.
“Part of our training is to dispel myths,” said Kaylyn Fagan, a Quinnipiac University law student and co-chair of the university’s Human Trafficking Prevention Project. She’s hosting the program with fellow Southington High School graduate and Quinnipiac law student Chris Iverson.
The virtual training is scheduled for Friday, April 9 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. Those interested in attending can contact the program at email@example.com or look for more information on its Facebook page at facebook.com/quinnipiachtpp.
One myth Fagan hopes to dispel is that victims are only exploited by strangers.
“A trafficker can be a family member, a family friend, a professional that you see, a coach. It can really be anyone, anyone that can assert some sort of control,” she said.
The training is also designed to show warning signs, such as unexplained gifts, cash or hotel key cards.
“We heard one story from (the Department of Children and Families) about a student that was a straight A student … and then when she got to high school her grades started plummeting and her parents thought she got into drugs or something so they looked in her room and found a journal of buyers of sex from her,” Fagan said.
Sheila Hayre, faculty advisor for the Human Trafficking Prevention Project, said the increasing amount of time spent online creates more opportunities for traffickers to exploit children. Traffickers will pose as young people and create fake social media profiles to persuade youth to send compromising images, which they will then threaten to release.
Fagan cautioned that approaching someone suspected of being trafficked could be dangerous. Traffickers can harm those they’re exploiting if they find out they’ve been approached and those being trafficked often resist help because they feel dependent on the people exploiting them.
She recommends reporting suspicions to the National Human Trafficking Hotline or the DCF Human Anti-trafficking Response Team. If someone appears to be in immediate danger, contact local police.
Fagan was inspired to offer the training after Robert Sellers, of Bristol, was charged by Southington police last month with criminal attempt to commit commercial sex abuse of a minor, criminal attempt to commit second-degree sexual assault and criminal attempt to commit risk of injury to a minor.
In October 2020, the FBI began an investigation into Sellers that was linked to an explicit website using his social media accounts, police said. Undercover FBI agents communicated with Sellers from October 2020 through February in excess of 500 times. Sellers, who was told the agent was the father of a 12-year-old girl, gave the agent advice on how to prostitute the girl, police said.
After telling the agent he would pay $200 for sexual acts with the minor, Sellers rented a motel room in Southington and arranged to meet, police said.
“When it happens in your hometown, that's when it hits you. I was floored when it saw it … but it's there,” Fagan said.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Connecticut saw five instances of commercial sex offenses and three involuntary servitude offenses in 2019.
Hayre said official statistics often fail to grasp the scale of the issue, as many individuals being trafficked feel they have no recourse through the criminal justice system.