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Milford talk to focus on recognizing sex trafficking


Human sex trafficking is a crime some might not realize happens here, and that’s why it’s important to recognize the signs, according to a former West Haven police officer who now works at the state Police Academy.

“The thing is, we never get a call that someone thinks there is human trafficking going on,” said Brian Reilly, who works at the academy training officers how to recognize human trafficking. “It always comes in as something else.”

Reilly is one of four panelists who will speak at a Zoom panel discussion on human trafficking and exploitation at 7 p.m. Jan. 26.

Albert May, a member of St. Raphael’s Pastoral Council, said the session is intended to address myths surrounding the crime and what parents can do to protect their children.

“Human sex trafficking is a crime that many people in this state think does not happen here, only elsewhere, in places such as New York City, Miami or Los Angeles, or in Africa, Asia and Latin America,” May said. “The truth is no city or community is immune from this crime, especially not one with three interstate highways running through it and two casinos.”

Annmarie Boulay, CEO of the faith-based anti-trafficking ministry The Underground, said traffickers troll social media sites looking for vulnerable youths.

“They pose as high school students, looking for teens that had a bad day, maybe had a fight with their parents or got a bad grade at school,” Boulay said. “These kids are stepping into danger and they don’t realize it.”

A typical trafficker could send hundreds of messages each day, looking for a single response that can start the process, she said.

“It’s all about gaining the trust of the person being recruited,” she said.

Boulay said there is no typical victim.

“We worked with one person who was a straight-A student, from a normal two-parent home, who was exploited starting from when he was 10 years old through college,” she said.

In some ways, recognizing the signs of exploitation and human trafficking can be similar to drug trafficking, Reilly said.

“Are your teen’s grades dropping, or are they skipping school?” Reilly said. “Are you finding items of value that you didn’t buy for them? Do they seem to have more cash or did their behavior change?”

One thing that parents should not be looking for is a dramatic change in the appearance of their child. Teens being exploited in the modern prostitution trade typically wear jeans and sneakers, he said.

According to Boulay, data compiled through the state indicates that 1,056 children were recorded as being trafficked and exploited between 2009 and 2018. But the actual number is likely considerably higher because it includes only documented cases, she said.

“We started with education and recognition programs, and since we’ve been doing outreach the numbers have been going up since more people recognize the signs,” Boulay said. “But how many happened that we don’t know about?”

The key for parents is to remain aware of their child’s activities, especially online, and to watch for unexplained changes in behavior. And don’t think that because they live in the suburbs that it can’t happen to their child, she said.

“The (1,056) cases come from every area of the state,” she said. “You could be in your own home, and you don’t know what’s happening one room over.”

The Jan. 26 discussion is sponsored by St. Raphael Parish in Milford and is open to the public. To register, email Albert May at by Jan. 24.


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