Prostitution, Child Sex Trafficking in the North Country

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In October Local 22 & Local 44 posted a story about a prostitution story in Plattsburgh, that story ended up being one of our most clicked on stories of all time. 

The women that the suspects are accused of soliciting are victims, in the eyes of police.

“They’re feeding their habits in any means that they can,” said Lt. Brad Kiroy with the  Plattsburgh Police Department.

Lt. Kiroy says the opiate crisis has created more female drug addicts which has magnified the age old relationship between addiction and prostitution.

“People will do anything to feed their addiction, including exploiting themselves to do that,” said Lt. Kiroy.

Lt. Kiroy says the department does not see a lot of prostitution cases locally but police know prostitution is happening in the Lake City.

“They’re very hesitant though to report this as being victims because they still need to feed that habit,” said Lt. Kiroy.

It’s a problem amplified by Plattsburgh proximity to the Canadian border.

“Plattsburgh is the first major stop between Montreal and New York City, or the last if you’re headed north, so we do come across a lot of this type of thing that’s transborder, whether it’s drug-related or possibly human-related,” said Lt. Kiroy.

With the advent of websites and online forums, prostitution doesn’t always look like it once did in the movies.

The women in short skirts on the corner have been replaced with online advertisements that are available with the click of a button in your neighborhood.

“Sex trafficking is here and we have to do something about it,” said Christine Peters, director of legal and social services at the Clinton County Department of Social Services.

Her department focuses on children and families. Peters reveals tales from one of the most shocking, gruesome secret corners of our communities: child sex trafficking.

“Children being brought from more urban areas into Clinton County for the specific purpose of prostitution and they leave and they come back maybe at another date,” said Peters.

She said last year, her office worked two of these cases, involving a 15-year old and a 17-year old delivered to Plattsburgh from New York City.

“There’s no lower age limit to sex trafficking. There have been victims as young as 12, 13, even younger,” she said.

Peter says there are even some children in Clinton County who are being exploited by the people who are supposed to love and protect them.

“We have seen teenage girls and teenage boys being prostituted by their family members in order to get what they need to live or to get additional drugs,” Peters said. “Anecdotally, we’ve received some stories where a mother will go into another room with say her drug dealer and her daughter, and the mother leaves the room and she’s high and she’s obviously received what she wanted and the daughter comes out a little bit later. That’s a shocking but very real example of how this human trafficking intersects with the opiate epidemic and drugs and substance abuse. It’s very intertwined.”

It’s not only shocking. It’s also nearly impossible to identify.

These boys and girls, Peters says, either feel connected to these relationships or don’t want to betray their loved ones by reporting them.

“It seems to be the easiest relationship to exploit with the most amount of secrecy. so it’s the easiest thing to hide,” said Peters.

Peters says, some children exposed to this level of trauma can experience substance abuse and mental health problems later in life.

“We’ve seen shades of it in our cases more since we’ve opened our eyes. We’ve attended some conferences,” said Peters. “We’ve attended some summits. We’ve seen signs. The more you get educated about something the more you have a tendency to identify it.”

Peters wants more people to have those skills.

Clinton County was recently chosen as a “safe harbor county” by the state of New York.

Peters says the reasoning involved the Vermont and Canadian borders, the well-traveled interstate and the opiate epidemic.

The designation allows for funds and resources to focus on identifying victims of human trafficking.

Franklin County and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe have similar designations, Peters says.

In October, the Clinton County Department of Social Services received its first $50,000.“We used a lot of that to build an infrastructure, create a team, get some individuals to planning, purchase curriculums and purchase some training for this  area.  Next year, we’re going to focus more on raising public awareness,” said Peters.

That means training foster parents, care providers, even school counselors on trauma-informed care and reading the signs of sex trafficking.

“There are red flags: does a child have a commodity they wouldn’t normally have? Do they have the newest iPhone? Do they have ear pods?” said Peters.

Peters urges anyone who spends time around children to keep their eyes open and never think it couldn’t happen near you.

“I guess the message from me to anybody is just to pay attention, to listen to what somebody is saying, that’s how we’re going to identify it. I think the biggest part of it is empathy, listening to other human beings. We really need to listen to what’s going on,” said Peters.

Peters says DSS is using Love 146 for some curriculums and materials moving forward at Clinton County schools and other child care providers.

Visit https://love146.org/ for more information.

The problem isn’t necessarily constrained to just Plattsburgh.  Vermont State Police say they see this problem too.

Police say both boys and girls going out of state; exchanging sex for drugs.  Officials says sometimes it’s even done by their parents.

Authorities say investigating trafficking is relatively new for the state and there is currently no task force investigating the issue.

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