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Asservo Project gives Cranberry Township presentation on human trafficking

Brenda Lutz, awareness and education coordinator for the Asservo Project, delivers a seminar on human traficking at the Rose E. Schneider YMCA in Cranberry Township on Wednesday night, April 17. William Pitts/Butler Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — Today, through human trafficking, 5.4 out of every 1,000 people in the world are victims of slavery, and no corner of the world is left untouched, according to the Asservo Project.

Founded in 2017 and based in nearby Moon Township in Allegheny County, the Asservo Project is dedicated to combating human trafficking at home and abroad.

On Wednesday night, April 17, awareness and education coordinator Brenda Lutz hosted an Asservo Project seminar at the Rose E. Schneider Family YMCA in Cranberry, in front of an audience of dozens of curious parents and other citizens.

“This is not going to be stopped by our government alone, or by our police forces alone,” Lutz said. “It takes each and every one of us to stand up and say, ‘no more.’”

The bulk of the seminar was dedicated to educating parents on what they could do to prevent their children from becoming victims of human trafficking.

According to statistics gathered by the Asservo Project, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, valued at $150 billion.

“It is supply and demand. If there was no demand, we would not be having this conversation,” Lutz said. “You can arrest every trafficker out there. You can rescue every victim. But if we do not address the demand, this is going to continue.”

Lutz warned that in the digital age, traffickers are more numerous, persistent, and have more tools at their disposal than ever before. During her presentation, she stated that in 93% of human trafficking cases, the victim has already developed a relationship with the trafficker.

“One of the things that I hear is, ‘Oh, I watch my kids when we’re at the bus stop, or when we go to Wal-Mart,’” Lutz said. “But that encompasses about 7% of these kids.”

She also mentioned that traffickers typically target those in society who are the most vulnerable: youth with a criminal history, homeless people, runaways, children or teens who identify as LGBTQ, or people who have a history of sexual trauma.

“We have seen traffickers literally stand outside of juvenile hall or the courthouse and pick the kids right back up,” Lutz said.

In recent years, and especially in a post-COVID world, traffickers don’t even have to meet victims in person to scope them out. Lutz said social platforms such as Discord, as well as popular games such as Minecraft can be magnets for predators.

In a video played during the presentation, a high school sophomore told her story of developing a friendship with another player over Minecraft, which turned toxic when that other player asked her for explicit photos.

“She thought, well, it's not a big deal because everybody does it. So she sent him some,” Lutz said. “And then he told her to send him more and more, and if she didn’t, that he was going to come by and rape her. … Thankfully, she had the courage to talk to her mom, let her know what happened, and they got authorities involved.”

Of course, these situations don’t have a good ending.

“Predators do what they call ‘fishing,’ and they might throw out 200 lines,” Lutz said. “They're just looking for somebody to say, ‘I hate my life. I'm so ugly. I want to kill myself. My parents suck. I'm failing school.’”

Lutz closed the seminar by giving parents in the audience a template for a seven-point “cellphone contract” to reduce the possibility of children being caught in the trap of trafficking. The contract is available on the Asservo Project’s website.

“If you are not ready to talk to your child about sex and pornography, your child is not ready to have a phone or other devices,” Lutz said.

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