Sex Trafficking: A Growing Issue

Alli Himler, Staff Writer

Grocery stores are very busy on the weekends, Saturday in particular. Walmart was most definitely a zoo. The parking lot was packed. A mother and her daughter spent a good while searching for a decent spot, but given the number of cars, they were forced to find a space in the very back. The mother began to pull into a spot when her daughter spoke up. “Do not park here,” she said. Her mother, in confusion, began to interject, but before she could get a word in the girl stated again, “Do not park here.” The urgency in her voice was unusual, so trusting her daughter’s instincts, she pulled away and found a spot on the other side of the lot. It wasn’t long until the mother saw the same red flags as her daughter.

A white van, out of state, tinted windows, and strange car decals in a Walmart parking lot at a time with many distractions. It was parked crookedly with the back doors facing the passenger side door. The daughter’s quick thinking may have saved her and her mother from a sex trafficker. She recognized the typical signs associated with human trafficking, and luckily, nothing more came from the situation. 

Many people tend to believe that human trafficking is an issue that doesn’t affect the safe county of Westmoreland, but they couldn’t be more wrong. This example isn’t something that was formulated and proposed by an educator, but a true story of a girl in our very own school and the same Walmart right across from it. Although there is no solid proof that this van was involved in trafficking, the signs of it were all there. Sex trafficking is stalking our county, lurking quietly beneath the water’s surface, invisible to the unobservant eye. It’s time to educate one another and put a stop to this deadly issue. 

On Wednesday, November 6, Saint Vincent College hosted its third annual Community awareness event, and this year, the focus was on human trafficking in Westmoreland. Many members of our community, including Gina Cerilli, Sarah medina, Laura, Mancuso, Kristin Malone-Bodar, and Dawn Hennessey attended and spoke at the conference, and they gave an incredible amount of information that can literally save lives. The host of the event, Mr. Bill Urbanik, started the night out with some very wise words. He stated, “You can make a difference in this world, or you can make noise.” 

During the symposium, Gina Cerilli shared the heart-aching story of a childhood friend who fell victim to sex trafficking. 

When she was 13 years old, Alicia Kozakiewicz was abductor by a man who she believed she met online. She partook regular conversations with Scott Tyree, who at the time was a 40-year-old computer programmer. Alicia was new to the internet, and so she was rather unaware of the danger she could potentially be putting herself in. Being so young, she talked with the man about subjects of sexual nature that she most likely knew very little about. 

On New Year’s Day, 2002, her family was together enjoying a family dinner, and she went upstairs for a short amount of time, and never came back down for dessert. She had run away to go be with the man who she trusted whole-heartedly. She stated that she believed him to be her best friend, and she felt he was someone she could trust with her life. As soon as she showed up at his house, he took her inside and the abuse began immediately. He videotaped said abuse, which he then broadcast to his friends on an unknown network. Thankfully, one of those individuals reported this to law enforcement, which may be the reason she is still alive to tell her story. 

She recalls being held captive by a chain on a collar around her neck for four days in his basement. She was beaten raped, and tortured in nightmarish ways. As she recalls, she was truly treated like an animal. The morning before her rescue, she recalled him stating, “I’m beginning to like you too much. So we’re gonna go for a ride tonight.” It was at this point she knew she could be dead within hours.

Thankfully, her rescuers showed up just in time. she was one of the very few who were rescued. When the FBI entered Tyree’s building, they found Alicia chained to the floor of his bedroom, with the locked collar still around her neck. All she was wearing was her underwear, and so they immediately gave her a jacket to cover herself with. She was very frightened, but to this day, is still unable to describe the amount of relief she felt when she say those three bold, yellow letters FBI breaking into the house to rescue her. 

She feels that she was rescued for a reason. She wants to share her story so that other kids can realize that this is something very real that can happen, and she wants to save as many kids as possible before they fall into a predators hands.

Potential Indicators of a Sex-Trafficking Victim

  • Afraid to speak for themselves
  • Evidence of delayed medical care
  • Unaware of location
  • False IDs or lying about age
  • Suspicious amounts of money, flashy jewelry, or clothing
  • Reoccuring STI’s
  • Teens with older boyfriends
  • Signs of physical assault
  • Branding or tattooing, barcode
  • Fear of law enforcement
  • Restricted movements
  • Over or underdressed
  • Overly tired

Often times, victims are made to work while enslaved by their traffickers. This not only includes domestic service, but rather begging at restaurants or selling magazines door to door can be red flags. 

Potential Indicators of a Sex-Trafficker or Location

  • Businesses open at strange hours of the night
  • High security
  • Poor conditions inside the building
  • Eccentric “customers”
  • Becomes abusive over the course of average relationships

The belief that kidnapping is the only way to be trafficked is a misnomer. A lot of trafficking situations begin with intimate relationships. Some have found that getting their target is easiest through psychological manipulation, and social media has definitely fueled the fire. Over time, traffickers make a relationship with their targets and slowly wait until they’re comfortable with them. They later make plans to meet, and the unsuspecting victim who thought they were in love is now being taken by force. In some cases, even after abuse, victims will be reluctant to leave their abusers because they still feel love them. Often times, but not always, these facilities can be found in massage parlors, spas, escort services, private homes, and even off the streets. 


The National Human Trafficking Hotline: (Phonecalls, Texts, webchats, emails)

Year National Total contacts National Confirmed Cases Pennsylvania Contacts Pennsylvania Confirmed Cases
2015 22,532 5,714 622 113
2016 26,809 7,748 675 162
2017 26,557 8,773 698 210
2018 41,088 10,949 630 275

Spread the word: 

Not enough people know about this daunting issue, but those who do are taking action to let everyone know what’s happening behinds the scenes of our county. One great project that is happening right now is the Red Sand Project. People are spreading awareness of sex trafficking by going out into streets and filling sidewalk cracks with red sand. From a distance, sidewalks look like one whole, perfect piece of cement, but when someone gets a little closer, they can see cracks and flaws in the concrete. The sidewalks represent our community, and the cracks resemble the issues we don’t tend to see, specifically human trafficking. The project aims to fill those cracks in the pavement with bright red sand, drawing attention to the big issues, even though they may seem small at first glance. This form of awareness through art has affected many lives and will continue to do so. To check out more about the Red Sand Project, visit


Many people (sadly, the majority being women) are searching for the best ways to protect themselves from this looming threat. One of the easiest things that can be done is to make all social media accounts as private as possible, and never accept any requests from anyone unless you have met them in person, or otherwise have confirmation of who that person really is. Also, never walk alone at night. Even if there’s only a thirty-foot distance between where you’re coming from and your car, that’s all that a trafficker needs. It is best to walk in groups of threes, so if one person is dropped off safely to a car, the other two still have each other. In addition, if there’s something suspicious about your car – maybe a cup sitting on the hood, or a package somewhere around the perimeter, get away as fast as possible. That is a common distraction technique, and if you were to move closer to observe that object and how it got there, you may be putting yourself in the exact place that the predator needs you to be if he is to make a fast exit with you.  Finally, it’s never a bad idea to fill up car key chains. There are many pocket-sized pepper sprays, alarms, GPS trackers, and utility knives available that are designed to defend people against attackers.