human trafficking

3 Women Found Locked in Room Amid Vt. Drug Raid, Sparking Trafficking Probe

Human trafficking "happens in places we least expect it," said Vermont Lt. Governor Molly Gray, an attorney who has prior experience working with the U.S government on human trafficking cases

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In Vermont, three women were found padlocked in a room, and federal authorities are investigating whether they were trafficked.

Federal authorities found evidence of potential human trafficking in Rutland, Vermont during a raid Friday prompted by suspected drug activity.

Vermont State Police said they and a special team from Homeland Security discovered people might have been held captive inside a home on Maple Street.

"It surprised me, big time," neighbor Tobey Fuller told NBC affiliate WPTZ Friday -- he expected Vermont to be a quieter place to live than where he moved from in New York.

State troopers and special agents freed three women from behind a padlocked door and found several indoor chain-link storage areas, according to Vermont State Police. They considered those additional possible indicators of human trafficking.

The women were checked by medical experts and interviewed, and an advocate specializing in human trafficking was on scene, state police added.

"Traffickers typically target marginalized populations or vulnerable people," said Courtney Albert of Give Way to Freedom which provides care and empowerment to survivors of human trafficking.

The pandemic has increased economic instability, which has made more people vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labor. Amy Rahe, a director of The Freedom Fund, joined LX News to debunk common misconceptions about modern slavery and to explain that it's happening in the U.S. more often than you think.

In an interview Monday, Albert explained that domestic violence, substance use disorder and immigration fraud are just some of the many complex factors that can be at play in instances of human trafficking.

"It's all about someone wanting to manipulate and control another person for their own financial benefit," Albert noted.

Human trafficking "happens in places we least expect it," said Vermont Lt. Governor Molly Gray, an attorney who has prior experience working with the U.S government on human trafficking cases.

"In our communities, if something doesn't feel right, oftentimes we have to trust our gut and recognize that there are resources available to make reports. If we believe someone is a victim -- to reach out to them, so they know support is available."

A New York man will be charged in U.S. District Court on an allegation of unlawful firearm possession that stemmed from the raid, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for Vermont.

Additional charges could be coming, investigators have noted.

Holly Christine Hayes is a survivor. And after breaking out of human trafficking and overcoming addiction, the founder and CEO of Sanctuary Project wants to help other women do the same. Her Austin, Texas-based jewelry company offers jobs and a fresh start for human trafficking survivors.

If you or someone you know needs help, resources are available through the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In Vermont, help is also available by calling 211.