There has been extensive coverage recently by many media outlets, including print, radio and television, on the subject of human trafficking.

This epidemic isn’t new, but the attention it is garnering certainly is. I have been a law enforcement officer for close to 28 years, and I, too, was ignorant of the fact that most victims are just that: victims, not willing participants.

I have had the opportunity to work these complicated cases, and in doing so I have been able to meet many women who were trapped in a life that they despised, yet couldn’t escape.

I am admittedly jaded as a result of my career, but these women have reminded me that even I can change my perceptions.

Despite what the “johns” believe, prostitutes, whether trafficked or not, do not actually like them.

To the contrary, they are sickened by the men and often dislike themselves. These victims are selling themselves and their souls as a result, for the most part, of threat, coercion, drug addiction or mental health issues.

We all wish they could wake one day and simply say, “I’m not doing this anymore,” but it isn’t that simple.

Human trafficking is a societal problem that society must be willing to address. The demand must be reduced by educating and arresting the customers; the supply must be reduced by providing positive alternatives and opportunities to the victims, and we must take a multipronged approach that includes education, awareness, and enforcement.

One prong alone will not solve the problem, but combining them can minimize this heinous crime.

Sgt. Steve Webster

South Portland Police Department