The Salvation Army's 'Fight for Freedom' tackles youth trafficking in Saratoga Springs

Jan 28, 2020

‘Slavery exists in our backyard’: Salvation Army announces Fight for Freedom initiative to help local youth trafficking survivors

On the surface, the small city of Saratoga Springs is an Upstate New York destination for many to experience the thrill of thoroughbred horse racing and soak up the water in the city’s mineral springs.

But beneath its charm lies a dark activity happening right under our noses. It may be hard to imagine, but slavery exists, and it’s happening throughout Saratoga and Warren County.

Human trafficking is a crisis spanning across the globe, and has high prevalence throughout the U.S. The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on a given day in 2016 within the country, there were more than 400,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery. Many of the victims of this atrocity are children.

While it’s easy to think of youth trafficking happening in major cities, the reality is that it’s happening in communities all around us. “People in my community are shocked when they hear about youth trafficking. It’s hard to imagine that slavery exists in our backyard,” said Keegan Burke of the Salvation Army of Saratoga Springs. He serves as the Anti-Human Trafficking Director.

Burke said many people he’s worked with have misconceptions about what youth trafficking truly is. “People hear the word trafficking and they think of a caravan of people being smuggled across borders,” he said. “But what it really means is someone who was forced or coerced to perform labor or sexual acts for the profit of another person.”

Youth trafficking exists in many forms. “We see trafficking in the form of a youth who identifies as part of the LGTBQ community, who wasn’t accepted by their family and had to run away, who is now forced to have survival sex with others for shelter and protection. We see trafficking in the form of a young girl who meets an older man, someone she believes is safe, who is kind and charming at first, but then forces her to have sex for his profit. We see trafficking in the form of a young boy coming into the country with his parents who is working endless hours on a farm, for little or no pay, while enduring physical and sexual abuse by their employer,” Burke explained.

Following the Presidential Proclamation declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the Salvation Army is launching a new initiative to combat youth trafficking in Saratoga and Warren County. The program, called Fight for Freedom, will seek to find children who are survivors of human trafficking and help them to safely exit their situations and heal from their experiences. “We refuse to live in a world where we are turning our eyes from this atrocity,” Burke said.

The Salvation Army will use a variety of outreach strategies to help find survivors and connect with youth who have suffered from the atrocities of trafficking. These include providing survivors with connections to medical treatment, trauma-informed counseling, shelter and housing options, clothing, food and safety planning. The Salvation Army is also committed to serve as a guide to help guide survivors through what can be a scary process when they’re ready to leave their trafficking situation.

While the Salvation Army will certainly work to do its part, it takes a village to help make a difference. Part of helping in the fight against youth trafficking is simply knowing what the signs are. There are some notable red flags you can look out for:

  1. Does the young person have a history of running away?

  2. Does the young person have a history of child abuse?

  3. Does the young person have tattoos that suggest ownership by another person?

  4. Do they have large amounts of money in their possession?

  5. Do they have extra cell phones?

  6. Do they have motel keys?

  7. Do they have an older boyfriend or girlfriend who seems to be controlling them?

  8. Do they have signs of abuse, such as bruising or other physical injuries?

“It’s important to know these signs so you can refer someone for help,” Burke explained.

Another way you can help comes through raising funds to support direct client assistance. “Funds could be used to pay for shelter or housing for someone, to cover a copay so they can get treated for STIs,” Burke said. “It could also help purchase food, clothing, or basic needs items. Any financial assistance will help us support the youth we serve.”

If you see any red flags or anything that seems suspicious, call the Salvation Army.

The Anti-Trafficking Case Manager can be reached at 518-338-8096. If you’re interested in learning more about the Fight for Freedom program or to schedule a presentation. Keenan Burke can be reached at 518-742-0272.

Together, as a community, we will fight to end human trafficking. If you are a survivor of trafficking, please know that you are not alone, and that the Salvation Army is always available to provide help, hope, and a path to healing.

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