February is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and over the past few weeks, our investigative team has talked to survivors who say they were trafficked through underground strip clubs licensed as banquet halls and catering venues in Prince George's County.
We began tracking the problem after hearing the stories of trafficked women who say they were forced to dance and have sex in underground strip clubs. Our undercover cameras caught illicit activity firsthand.
Even though county officials involved in the fight to stop trafficking say they have not seen the link between adult entertainment clubs and trafficking, they are stepping up their awareness efforts.
On Tuesday, the Prince George's County Human Trafficking Task Force met for updates and to talk about the need for funds to beef up resources in the areas of training and safe havens for victims.
Members say resources to help after the fact are limited, so they are attacking the problem through prevention with programs aimed at stopping the recruitment of boys and girls in middle and high schools.
"Our goals in Prince George's County are really to let youths know it's okay to have conversations about these things," said Meredith Torr of the organization FAIR Girls. "It's okay to reach out for support."
"Winning the battle means understanding that you have a battle and we've done that better than any other jurisdiction in the state of Maryland," said task force chairman Michael Lyles.
Following the task force's meeting, the county council was briefed on county efforts in the adult entertainment world.
When asked if they would be targeting adult entertainment venues for human trafficking, task force members said they would be focusing on activities and not locations.
They added that since 2011, the number of adult entertainment venues in the county have dropped from 60 to 14.