CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Valentine’s Day, the Schenectady Police Special Investigations Unit and the New York State Police VGNET launched a prostitution sting that resulted in the arrest of 9 individuals. While prostitution details can be uncommon, local nonprofit organizations supporting sex workers and victims of sex trafficking say this is an issue that remains prevalent in the Capital Region.

“Prostitution and survival sex work is still a very big issue locally,” said Sarah Caterina, Director of Clinical Services & Community Engagement at the YWCA of Northeastern New York. “There is a lot of shame and privacy associated with sex work, so it is often not talked about. A huge piece of survival sex work is related to trauma, systemic poverty, and racism. Runaways and our LGBTQ+ youth are at major risk of being trafficked.”

Caterina cites social media as a contributor to sex work remaining prevalent. “I believe that sex work has gotten more creative through social media and in ways people solicit sex work.”

Renee Henck, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator for Safe Inc. of Schenectady, echoed the sentiment, saying, “The upwards trend is also connected to the growth of social media, which creates more opportunities for traffickers to build relationships with victims and create more ways to traffic.”

According to Henck, highly accessible social media platforms have been utilized for trafficking and child exploitation. “We have also seen more work through the rise of cam sites. On those sites, it is hard to tell if the person behind the screen is performing those acts consensually.”

“Minors can be targets of sex trafficking, where they are offered something in return for sexual acts. Those things could range from housing, food, money, clothing, and more.”

Locally, Henck says these cases are very prevalent in the Capital Region but remain out of the public eye as many victims choose not to go to the police. “Victims may feel embarrassed, have a psychological connection to the trafficker, or just want to forget about it altogether.”

She adds that a lot of commercial sex is done in underground manners and that Safe Inc. of Schenectady might hear about things from people that cross their path, but the victims might not come forward. Henck says there has been a push for more widespread recognition and understanding of trafficking, which has helped identify more trafficking victims and minors at risk.