WASHINGTON, D.C. - A former Pennsylvania State Trooper said human trafficking is a growing issue. It happens not only in our hometown but across the nation. He’s trying to make students more aware of this issue.  

Matthew Harris, a former Pennsylvania State Trooper, has previously worked with elementary and middle school students through the Character: Be About It program. It trains law enforcement officers to teach kids essential character traits that help them navigate the challenges of life. And with the help of Penn State, it’s now a researched based curriculum with big results. Out of the 800 students sampled in Erie, Pennsylvania, 75 percent of them had a better outlook or thought process of law enforcement. 

“It has since evolved into multiple variables, besides improving perceptions of police, decreasing discipline referrals in schools, decreasing aggression towards classmates, improving friendship skills, bullying component and overall school climate,” said Harris.  

He now wants to put this program’s teachings towards a different use by helping students become more aware of human trafficking. Harris said human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery, is a multibillion-dollar industry and it has no borders. It's a local and international issue.  

Looking at the most recent data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2021, Pennsylvania has had roughly 200 cases of human trafficking identified, about 400 cases identified in New York and nearly 300 cases in Michigan.  

Harris hopes if we start talking to students early enough on this issue and helping them achieve the same foundation for good character traits and not give into peer pressure, it could save millions of lives and prevent human trafficking within our communities.  

“This is the same concept of making them aware of whom you’re talking to on social media, being aware of what's happening in your community,” said Harris. “For those who have loved ones, daughters, sons, this is something you need to be paying attention to and do more research on because it's happening right here in our neighborhood.” 

Harris said just having a mentor or a member of law enforcement talk about this with students for just a couple minutes a day could be a game changer on this issue.