I’ve been a police officer for 27 years and I recently realized that my perceptions can still change.

I participated in a five-part radio series on human trafficking; not because I am expert in any way, but because I know people who can provide valuable and credible information on the subject matter.

The response to the series was overwhelming, and because of it I have been asked to assist with a couple of recent (some ongoing) investigations.

My eyes have been opened wide!

The “victims” that I have encountered in no way wanted to be involved in prostitution, and even less so, forced prostitution.

Many of these women have substance abuse problems, combined with mental health issues.

This crusty old cop has been reminded that these women are human beings who oftentimes see no way out of the life they despise, yet rely on for their mere existence.

When they do reach out for help, the opportunities and services are limited.

They need MaineCare to attend intensive outpatient programs to deal with their addiction, but they often don’t qualify for one reason or another.

They need mental health counseling, but they must rely on whatever free services are available.

I cannot express all of my concerns and perceptions in this forum, but I’m hopeful it will ignite conversation on the topic.

Human trafficking is a problem.

It ruins lives.

And it certainly can happen to one of your loved ones.

If I can have my eyes opened after all these years, so can you.

There is a dedicated group of people working to make things better, and I’m confident that through education and awareness they can and will make a difference.

Detective Sgt. Steve Webster

South Portland Police Department