EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series that provides an in-depth look at the in-roads of sex trafficking in Lycoming County, the easy access provided by Route 15 and resources for youth trafficking victims.
The Route 15 corridor is filled with quaint towns, beautiful vistas and one of the highest quantities sex trafficking brought through Central Pennsylvania.
“People just look at (Route) 15 as a nice scenic ride down the road, but a lot of nefarious things can take place there,” said retired district judge Jim Sortman.
Williamsport and other areas in Lycoming County often are stopping points for sex traffickers, said Adam Welteroth, chairperson of the Lycoming County Human Trafficking Outreach Team. Often, they stop at gas stations and hotels, staying under the radar so as not to be discovered.
The quiet road offers many hidden stops with no cameras, few people and a lack of steady law enforcement, said Welteroth, but added that they are working to change this.
“It’s a quiet area for the sex traffickers to perform, and we want to make it harder for them,” Welteroth said.
Traffickers often will stay in the background and let the girl do all the talking, but they will probably be the person paying for everything.
“Human traffickers are very good at what they do. They’re very charismatic,” Welteroth said. “They know what to say and they know how to please a person to get them to come with them.”
The outreach team is working to educate law enforcement, truckers and members of the hotel industry on how to identify and report human trafficking, Welteroth said.
Another organization bringing awareness to trafficking along Route 15 is the Pennsylvania Alliance Against Trafficking Humans, or PAATH15. Founded in 2015, the coalition encompasses the 12 counties that border Route 15 and works to provide a unified front to decrease human trafficking along the rural highway.
The goal is to increase services and bring awareness to the heavy flow of trafficking through the region, according to Heather Shnyder, education specialist at Transitions of Pa in Lewisburg.
Adult bookstores are smattered along the road, Shnyder said. But it’s right before Duncannon where a lot of trafficking activity takes place, she said. Filled with 13 to 14 gentlemen’s club and strip clubs with signs that say “new girls, new girls” and “XXX,” she said the area is ripe for traffickers.
“Just in that little brief stretch of highway there is so much illegal activity going on that we just felt we had to come together as an organization to really bring awareness to that and what’s going on there,” Shnyder said.