Vermont's attorney general and U.S. attorney announced an agreement Tuesday to implement a multi-disciplinary approach to fighting human trafficking in Vermont. Their statement said the Vermont Human Trafficking Task Force had been working on a collaborative effort since 2013. “Vermont recognizes that the act of trafficking another human being is a violation of basic human rights and is determined to bring an end to the exploitation of human beings for labor or commercial sex,” the statement said. U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan called human trafficking “one of the most dangerous, but least understood, aspects of the opioid trade.” “Drug dealers coerce addicts to perform commercial sex acts for the benefit of the dealers’ illegal organizations, deliberately perpetuating the victims’ addiction in order to exploit them for commercial gain," she said in her statement. "Trafficking in people compounds the damage that trafficking in opioids has caused our state, and often involves use of brutal violence and abuse against victims,” Nolan said. She said a response should “bring the problem of human trafficking out of the shadows” as well as prosecute traffickers and provide help and services to victims. “From an enforcement perspective, those who engage in this horrific crime should be on notice that they will be targets for federal prosecution,” Nolan said. The releases said drug addicts and other vulnerable people such as children, the disabled and the undocumented are specifically targeted and recruited by traffickers. Attorney General T.J. Donovan said he was proud of the partnership. “This is about protecting basic human rights and ensuring that survivors have the help and services they deserve,” he said. The release included data collected by the task force that estimated more than 250 incidents of human trafficking between 2014 and 2017 in Chttenden County. However, human trafficking has been a problem in Rutland County as well. In 2016, Diheim Young, of Brooklyn, New York, arrested in Rutland in March 2015, was convicted of sex trafficking, which was believed to be the first conviction for that charge in a federal court in Vermont. A Rutland man, Roosevelt M. Norris, 49, has two pending counts of human trafficking in order to have a person commit a sexual act for money. The case against Norris, who is being held without bail, was in court on Monday. Norris is accused of giving teenagers drugs in return for sex. Rutland County State's Attorney Rose Kennedy said she had already tried to take a multi-disciplinary approach to the local cases she had seen, working with the Child First Advocacy Center, the local police and the Vermont State Police. “They are incredibly difficult investigations," she said. "It's certainly good news that the task force exists and the U.S. attorney's office and the (attorney general's) office are there to provide assistance. They're very important cases and unfortunately we're seeing this behavior more and more." Avaloy Lanning, executive director of the NewStory Center shelter in Rutland, has been involved in fighting human trafficking for most of her professional career before coming to Vermont. “Like domestic violence, it's an issue that no community is immune to. That includes Rutland and all of Rutland County,” she said. Lanning said Rutland residents should understand that trafficking doesn't just mean sex workers but also labor exploitation. Like Kennedy, Lanning said she believed there was more human trafficking in Rutland County than many might realize. “For those people who are profiting from the buying and selling of human beings or using human beings as commodities, it's in their best interests to keep it hidden," she said. "So it's no wonder that people think, 'This is not something that happens in our community.' The very real facts are, it is happening in our community,” Lanning said. NewStory has provided support to trafficking victims, according to Lanning.

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