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Attorney general forms group to fight human trafficking

New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney said he hopes to combat human trafficking in underage prostitutes and coerced laborers through the formation of a commission that aims to change the way law enforcement deals with its victims.

“New Hampshire citizens pay traffickers every weekend to exploit these women for personal satisfaction,” Delaney said, citing ads investigators have seen on the internet for sex with “very young women” in Portsmouth and Manchester, Salem and Nashua.

Delaney said the scope of the problem is unclear because police departments statewide report cases differently – a dilemma the commission is expected to address.

According to Delaney, 200,000 children – some as young as 11 years old – are recruited nationwide each year by pimps who keep them captive and force them into prostitution.

Delaney said the victims of human trafficking are sometimes treated as criminals, when they need to be treated foremost as victims.

In one case last year, Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo said the Littleton police showed good instincts when a domestic violence victim provided them with false information. The girl turned out to be a 15-year-old runaway from Massachusetts who was being prostituted by a trafficker now serving an eight-year sentence.

“It is a horrific reality here in New Hampshire,” Saffo said. “Although we know it’s happening here, we are not seeing enough people prosecuted.”

New Hampshire in 2009 was among the first states to make human trafficking a crime, but says a unified effort statewide is needed to put that law to work. Part of the commission’s mission, he said, would be to train law enforcement and other first responders on how to recognize victims of human trafficking.

The 33-member commission includes state and federal law enforcement agents, victim advocates, community activists and lawmakers. Its members include Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Zuckerman, who prosecuted one of the first federal human trafficking cases in New Hampshire involving two people he says enslaved Jamaican laborers in Litchfield.

“This is a hidden crime,” Zuckerman said. “It’s around us all the time and we don’t see it.”

Zuckerman said the best investigative tool they have to fight human trafficking is anonymous tips to law enforcement from people – neighbors, teachers, nurses – who see something that doesn’t look right.

Delaney noted that the commission is being created on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed 100,000 slaves.

“But slavery continues to exist in this country and in the state of New Hampshire, in the form of sex trafficking and coerced labor,” he said.

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