It appears in our modern world danger is just a mere mouse-click away. The two leaders of a discussion held Tuesday at Calvert Library’s Fairview branch presented some daunting statistics to the audience. The discussion was billed “Sextortion and Human Trafficking, Calvert County and Beyond.”
The 90-minute overview of the provocative topic was led by two members of the Calvert County Commission for Women — the panel’s chair, Joan Winship, who is the retired executive director of the International Association of Women Judges and — Kathryn Marsh, a former deputy state’s attorney in Calvert who now serves as the assistant chief of the Special Victims and Family Violence Unit.
“Fifty years ago, we didn’t didn’t hear much about domestic violence,” said Winship, adding that it took the Women’s Liberation Movement’s momentum during the late 1970s to bring “sexual harassment in the workplace” to the fore. Now the term “sextortion” is the label applied. “Sex plus corruption equals extortion,” said Winship. “It’s an abuse of power — doing something for someone in return for a ‘sexual favor,’ a ‘quid pro quo’ exchange — psychological coercion rather than physical force.”
The practice, according to Winship, has been problematic for case prosecutors. “Because sextortion involves both sex and corruption, it was less likely to be prosecuted,” Winship noted. An example of sextortion occurred in Maryland and was revealed in 2015. Winship referenced the “sex for repairs” scandal in Baltimore City.
Several women residing in housing under the auspices of the local housing authority came forward to claim maintenance workers for the authority refused to perform repairs without a sexual quid pro quo. According to reports by various news outlets, including NBC, the workers who were identified as offenders were fired and a civil lawsuit resulted in the payment of $8 million from the city to the women who came forward to claim sextortion.
However, criminal charges were dropped against two of the workers who were prosecuted.
According to Winship, sextortion tactics have been employed by a variety of professionals with unsavory aims.
This list includes teachers, government workers, immigration officials and law enforcement officers.
“Mostly, we think it happens elsewhere,” said Winship. “It happens in every country in the world.” Winship said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children began tracking extortion cases in 2013. Some of the more vulnerable victims are youth who find themselves chatting on a computer. Internet perpetrators, she said, “can reach hundreds of people at one time.”
Marsh declared trafficking was truly “a crime against humanity.” The crime is especially troubling for Maryland residents since national statistics identify the state as “the fourth-highest” human trafficking state in the U.S., Marsh said. She pointed out that Maryland has a major harbor, an international airport, various train depots, interstate roads and provides venues for many large events. Marsh recalled a pimp who had been apprehended by authorities, “told police Maryland is a ‘goldmine’ for human trafficking.” The most vulnerable to recruitment as a sex slave include 12-to-14 year-olds and runaways. “Seventy percent of the victims have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their homes,” said Marsh.
She also pointed out that 76 percent of transactions for sex with underage girls start on the Internet.
The statistics on human trafficking are rising. Marsh stated human trafficking nationwide has already eclipsed the illegal sale of firearms, and its numbers are on a pace to surpass the sale of illegal drugs.
Despite its lofty trafficking statistics, Marsh said Maryland is “years behind in recognizing the problem.” As to what citizens can do, Marsh stressed educating yourself about the issue was important, as was talking “to the young people in your life.” Additionally, she urged attendees to tell their friends about this issue. “Don’t be afraid to make a report and ask for help,” said Marsh. Winship said the Commission for Women is hopeful they can share their presentation with other organizations. For more information on the Calvert County Commission for Women, go to the county government website.