Laura Kacy started the human rights organization Justice Partners Association six months ago when her life "just became a burden."
"The disparity of my comfortable life versus what other people don't have became so apparent," said Mrs. Kacy, 55, of Sarver.
The group meets every Saturday at Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer to discuss how to help victims of human trafficking locally, in the state and in the United States. The group is affiliated with Riverside Community Church of Oakmont.
Human trafficking victims are forced into slavery, involuntary labor or other forms of servitude to repay debts, often for transportation into the U.S., says the website of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which investigates human trafficking.
Many residents don't believe there is human trafficking in the area. "Human trafficking in Pittsburgh, no, that doesn't happen" is a sentence Crystal Sobotor of Oakmont has heard many times.
In January, she joined Justice Partners Association.
"We need to make a major shift in the way we look at prostitutes and how they end up that way, instead of just judging them," said Mrs. Sobotor, 33. She is among the members from three churches who try to help the victims.
Justice Partners will sponsor a purse sale from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 22 to help raise awareness about human trafficking. The sale will take place at 540 Pittsburgh St. in Springdale Borough.
"We will have a lot of opportunities for people to become aware of the issue of trafficking," said Cindy Stenger, 58, of Plum. The fun side of this event, she explained, is the opportunity to buy a purse at a "very reasonable price." With a mix of donated and new purses, prices will begin at $1.
Money raised will go to Change Purse Ministry, a faith-based organization with an office in central Pennsylvania that supports safe houses across the country for victims of human trafficking. "We hope to raise a lot of funds," said Mrs. Stenger. "There are so few homes in the country. That's something we really need to work at changing. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania doesn't spend a lot of focus on this issue. So, the legislation is very weak."
In June 2012, the state General Assembly described Pennsylvania as a "pass-through state" for human trafficking, she said, but also as a "source [and a] destination."
Shared Hope, a website that grades states on how well they respond to trafficking situations, has given Pennsylvania an F.
People must not treat victims as perpetrators, Mrs. Stenger said. "These children are not prostitutes, they have been prostituted," she said.
"These people need food and shelter," Mrs. Kacy said. When asked if human trafficking could be fought locally, she said: "Absolutely. Fighting does not mean that it's going to be eradicated by what I do, but if we all start to just do what we can do, people will start to become aware."
Nicolas Dubois: email@example.com.