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DrPH student launches statewide coalition to combat human trafficking

Several factors contribute to the nation’s human trafficking crisis, and Pennsylvania’s heavily-traveled interstate system is one of them. Several major routes pass through the state or intersect in the Commonwealth, which makes it easier for traffickers to move people across state lines.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Anna Ssentongo

Anna Ssentongo, DrPH student

To help statewide efforts to combat this problem, Anna E. Ssentongo, a Doctor of Public Health student at Penn State College of Medicine, has launched the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Human Trafficking (PCAHT). Working in collaboration with nearly a dozen state and local anti-trafficking organizations, as well as the National Human Trafficking Hotline, PCAHT’s mission is to increase awareness and improve services across Pennsylvania.

To aid in these efforts, the coalition has launched a website, social media sites and online support groups for victims of trafficking and sexual abuse.

“As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and childhood trauma, I have a passion for helping and advocating for trauma survivors, especially victims of human trafficking and sexual assault, “Ssentongo said. “Prior to starting this coalition, I volunteered with victims of sexual assault and human trafficking through church ministries and in Facebook support groups.”

It is common to find survivors of human trafficking in homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters, which cannot provide adequate trauma resources. In many cases, communities lack sustainable services to ensure long-term healing. As PCAHT’s founder and CEO, Ssentongo aims to bridge gaps throughout the state and provide support to victims.

“I am a strong believer in the healing power of writing. I am currently working on publishing a book, that will give 100 survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking a chance to share their stories,” she adds. “I have created a writing lab for survivors to share about their experiences. In my eyes, writing is a cathartic and liberating way of letting go of our pains, often before we are ready to talk about them.”

Since launching in August, PCAHT has already begun making a difference. The coalition, which strives to educate the community about trafficking and provide support to survivors, has reached more than 5,000 people through social media, contributed to the education of 420 individuals, served 34 sexual assault survivors, and assisted four human trafficking survivors. Guided by a local board of directors, PCAHT filed for its 501c3 status, and the organization should be formally organized as a nonprofit in early 2021.

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