Haven't heard about sex trafficking? That's about to change.
A group in Anne Arundel County called AA Aware! held its inaugural meeting on Monday in Severn.
Through a $10,000 grant from Anne Arundel Women's Giving Together, AA Aware! will educate the county about sex trafficking through forums, videos and other materials over the next year.
In May, a when police said flew a woman into Maryland to work as a prostitute.
About 50 people gathered at in Severn to learn more about the issue, including law enforcement from the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
It’s difficult to point to numbers that indicate the scope of the problem, according to officials.
“Prostitution doesn’t always get prosecuted—it will often get dropped along the way and related crimes of assault, battery or theft [remain]," said Jeanne Allert, of the Maryland Rescue and Restore Coalition, which helped get money to fund the group.
As an example, Allert said that a prostitute may get cheated out of her money and assault the man who doesn't pay her. The incident would be reported by police as an assault rather than prostitution charge.
“You see a lot of that,” said an undercover Anne Arundel County Police Department detective. "They're arrested for a variety of other crimes and it's only through interviewing them that we learn they were prostituted out."
It's hard to quantify how much human trafficking is actually going on, he explained, but said it is definitely present.
"I can tell you from interviewing these girls extensively, Baltimore is one of the top five cities in the country [for prostitution]," the detective said.
Officials explained that "Baltimore" refers to the Baltimore metropolitan area, which includes anywhere in driving distance, from Baltimore to Howard and Anne Arundel counties. And in Anne Arundel, the detective outlined the pockets where different types of issues arise.
"; and we have Brooklyn, where you see girls walking the street; and Annapolis and Fort Meade are unique because of the amount of people."
Movement is a key component of human trafficking, keeping victims disoriented so they cannot ask for help.
“A pimp will not house them in the area where they work,” the detective said. “That’s what makes Laurel, Annapolis and some of the smaller hotel clusters so viable for an operation like this.”
Since the victims are not in one area for very long, AA Aware! aims to educate the citizenry in Anne Arundel County so that people can identify what is going on below the surface of a situation.
“The vast majority of the tips … come from just average citizens, just good Samaritans who are saying, ‘Something just doesn’t seem to be right, that salon doesn’t seem to be a salon,’” said Allert.
Citizens should report anything suspicious to police.
“Those tips can be incredibly important for law enforcement at all levels," she said. "You can be the eyes and ears to help deal with this.”
AA Aware! will meet monthly. Its next get-together will be July 16 at in Severna Park.