CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (News10)-The trial of a Colonie man accused of trafficking women and underage girls for prostitution began this week. Jury selection started on Monday in the federal trial against Christopher Thomas who is accused of using a website to advertise women and teenage girls for commercial sex in the Capital Region, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.
An area nurse who said she had been his girlfriend recently admitted to helping Thomas operate his prostitution ring and is now awaiting her July sentencing date in federal court in Albany. For those who help victims, the trial underscores many misconceptions about sex trafficking and who is most vulnerable.
Jason McLaughlin is the Executive Director of WAIT House in Glens Falls. The organization provides stability to homeless youth. Some of the young people being helped by McLaughlin and his staff are also survivors of prostitution. News10’s Anya Tucker asked McLaughlin to dispel some of the most common misconceptions people have about sex trafficking. “I think they think of prostitution,” he said. “People being forced across the border and trucks, or being sent overseas.” He told Anya that sex trafficking in the Capital Region is a local problem and that the perpetrators are almost never mysterious kidnappers trolling the grocery store aisles.
“There’s people in the community that target these vulnerable populations and they look for these kids who are mis-housed. They look for these kids who are misplaced. And they say to them, ‘You know. You can stay with me. I have a room at my house that you can stay in. I will provide you with food. Hey, I’ll even buy you a cell phone.’ But it is usually not out of the kindness of their heart. There’s always a catch.”
McLaughlin says the “catch” can be sexual exploitation and that traffickers use several tools to gain a would-be victim’s trust. He says the perpetrators are often well known to their victims, such as family members or friends. Sex traffickers also use social media or online gaming to make initial contact. And pimps often force youths who view their pimp as a trusted authority figure or romantic partner, to recruit their peers.
McLaughlin and his colleagues work with schools and parents educating them to recognize the signs of sex trafficking. “If kids are presenting with adults that are not familiar to the school system, or with their peers, or are unable to speak for themselves. Or have a decline in appearance, or suddenly have an influx of cash,” McLaughin added. He says most of all young people need support and to know that help and hope us out there.
Captain Community Human Services
National Human Trafficking Hotline