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Sex trafficking exposed as the secret criminal enterprise

WTAE Pittsburgh 9/20/2022
Operation Cross Country © FBI Operation Cross Country

Groups fighting against sex trafficking are speaking out on the heels of several arrests in the area during the past week.

This follows an aggressive move against the criminal enterprise by the FBI, called Operation Cross Country, where more than 200 victims were located and taken to safety, including in Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and the Blackburn Center in Greensburg are among the organizations educating the public about how traffickers pick out their victims, gain their trust and then trap them.

"It happens in rural, urban, suburban communities and neighborhoods. It happens every single place that we exist," says Lisa Perry, executive director of PAAR.

Renee Reitz, of the Blackburn Center, said victims can be children, teenagers and adults, regardless of gender.

"An unstable home life, if there's substance abuse happening, addiction, mental health concerns, so they focus in on that, and also they look at if someone is seeking love, affection," Reitz said.

Law enforcement and groups fighting sex trafficking say victims are easily targeted on the internet.

Educational and training workshops are available to the public to learn how to spot victims and be vigilant in preventing sex trafficking.

The Blackburn Center and PAAR offer services to the public on a regular basis.

"We'll provide counseling, therapy services, advocacy support, so when they're going to hearings, they're not as scared, and we kind of navigate them through the system because it is intimidating," Reitz said.

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