Portland will be one of six additional cities to host a coordinated team of federal agencies as part of an existing program aimed at stopping human trafficking, which often takes the form of forced prostitution.

“Maine is a relatively small and rural state, but it is not immune from human trafficking issues,” U.S. Attorney for Maine Thomas E. Delahanty II said in a statement Friday. “They are a priority for our office and the District of Maine.”

Human trafficking occurs when someone uses threats or deception to control someone else in order to exploit the person, often as forced manual labor or in prostitution.

Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams function under the leadership of the U.S. attorney and ranking officials in the regional offices of the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Labor, according to the statement.

“Human trafficking robs victims of their liberty, exploits them for labor and for sex, and infringes not only on their rights, but on their essential humanity,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Lipez, coordinator for the Maine district’s efforts to fight human trafficking, said agencies already work well together in the state to combat the problem.

“I think what it will do is streamline and formalize the collaboration that is already been ongoing between us and our federal partners that work these cases,” Lipez said in a telephone interview Friday. The designation does not carry with it additional financial resources but establishes a structure and will include support from national experts in the different agencies, she said.

Just this week, a man from Auburn and a woman from Maine were each sentenced to nine years in prison for taking a 13-year-old girl to hotels in Boston and in Bangor to work as a prostitute.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said local efforts to stop human trafficking will benefit from greater coordination at the federal level.

“We’re blessed in the state of Maine to have really strong relationships at the local, county, state and federal level,” he said. “With human trafficking investigations, much like drug investigations, it is imperative we’re collaborating and sharing information and working together.”

The Portland Police Department is a member of the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking & Exploitation.

Authorities are more aware of human trafficking than had been the case years ago, which has elevated it as a problem that needs to be addressed, according to Sauschuck.

“Human trafficking is certainly an issue that law enforcement is looking at through a different lens in 2015 and because of that, because of our education and outlook on this, we do find it more and more in the state of Maine,” the chief said.

In addition to Portland, new coordination teams are being established in Cleveland; Minneapolis; Sacramento, California; Newark, New Jersey; and Portland, Oregon.

The designation was awarded through a competitive process, but a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the materials submitted in support of the district’s application are not public records.

The federal program was started in 2011 in the cities of Atlanta; El Paso, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tennessee; and Miami. After the coordination teams were in place in those cities, prosecutions for forced labor, international sex trafficking and adult sex trafficking rose significantly compared to other parts of the country. There was an 86 percent increase in the number of defendants convicted in those federal prosecutorial districts compared to a 14 percent increase elsewhere.

“The Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative is an important tool in our collective ability to combat sex trafficking, forced labor and domestic servitude here in the United States,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said in a statement. “It highlights our commitment to increase capacity to rescue victims and bring perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.”


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