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A Movement to End Human Trafficking in Pennsylvania

Borrowing its name from a Native American legend, the North Star Initiative is working to end forced prostitution in Pennsylvania.
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There is an old Paiute Native American legend about the North Star that explains why it can always be found in the same spot.

The legend goes, “Long, long ago, when the world was young, the People of the Sky were so restless and travelled so much that they made trails in the heavens. Now, if we watch the sky all through the night, we can see which way they Paiute, Native American, women, fashion, culturego. But one star does not travel. That is the North Star. He cannot travel. He cannot move. When he was on the earth long, long ago, he was known as Na-gah, the mountain sheep, the son of Shinoh. He was brave, daring, sure-footed, and courageous.”

Na-gah was determined to climb to the top of the highest mountain. However, once Nah-gah made it to the top, he could not find a good way down. His father later found him and decided to turn his son into a star so that he could guide those who were lost. Na-gah’s father said, “I will not let my brave son die. I will turn him into a star, and he can stand there and shine where everyone can see him. He shall be a guide mark for all the living things on the earth or in the sky.”

From then on, Nah-gah became the star that every living thing could use to find its way. As the legend states, “He does not move around as the other stars do, and so he is called ‘the Fixed Star.’ And because he is in the true north all the time, our people call him Qui-am-i Wintook Poot-see. These words mean ‘the North Star.’”

The North Star Initiative, also known as the Lancaster Initiative Against Human Trafficking (L.I.G.H.T.), is a grassroots movement founded in 2009 that is working to bring an end to modern slavery. The organization uses the name North Star because it hopes to be “a fixed point and guiding light to freedom.”

Jen Sensenig, the founder of the North Star Initiative, started the program after learning just how often human trafficking happens where she lived. According to the organization’s website, Sensenig began to recognize that women were being prostituted in her hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The website says that “[Sensenig] worked the next year with an organization crime unit gathering observations based on her interaction with local women, their traffickers, and their johns. The investigation revealed that the women were involved in a large prostitution ring that extended to several states along the East Coast.”

The North Star Initiative will be opening its doors in Lititz, Pennsylvania, not only to help “restore the lives of women who have been abused and trafficked,” but also to help combat human trafficking in general. The center will be called The Harbor, a fitting name for a place that is meant to be a safe haven from violence.

John Bowman, the Police Chief for East Lampeter Township, said, “You could probably, almost on a daily basis, find something somewhere in Lancaster County advertised on the ‘backpage’ website for some kind of service.”

He adds, “It spreads to different areas around the country and I think just folks realize this isn’t something that’s just in one area, one place, that it can be fluid and move around. That’s important to know too.”

Most people assume that human trafficking is strictly an international problem, but it has proven to also be a huge problem in the United States. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican Congressman in Virginia, said, “I think most Americans know about human trafficking, but they allow them to have it in their minds as a kind of international thing … It is in  Bob Goodlatte, man, congressman, politicsevery community and it takes many, many different forms.

Pam Poutz, the Executive Director of the North Star Initiative, shared with Lancaster Online that they have been receiving referrals weekly from various different sources. She also shared that most of the time trafficking will present itself as prostitution. Poutz said, “It’s going to present as prostitution because that’s kind of the M.O. We all know that. If you can actually get below that surface, that is not what is going on.”

While The Harbor might not be able to put a complete stop to human trafficking in the Lancaster area, it is a great step in the right direction.

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