Sex Trafficking in Maine, Part 1 

The arrests of three people in Central Maine, accused of running sex trafficking operations, made headlines around the state.

We’d like to think that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Maine…But these crimes are actually on the rise in our state, and you may be shocked to find out where.

Sex trafficking by definition is a form of slavery. And recent reports show there are more slaves in the world today than anytime in history.

Calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline originating from Maine have increased by more than 50% in recent years and they’re coming from everywhere.

Joy Hollowell has part one of a special report.

“I’m thinking that I have had really, by my definition, probably eight cases so far in the greater Bangor area,” says Alex Turallo, of Rape Response Services, which covers Penobscot and Piscataquis counties. Turallo is also a member of Penquis START, which stands for Sexual Trafficking Action Response Team. The group formed about a year ago and consists of law enforcement, forensic nurses, the court system and service providers including the housing authority and clergy.

“I’ve been counting {cases} for just over a year,” says Turallo.

“That’s not a lot of time,” says the reporter.

“That’s not a lot of time,” agrees Turallo. “And it’s adults and younger teens, in my cases.”

Turallo} says much of the recruitment is done over the Internet, through sites like

“People will find somebody they determine doesn’t have a strong network, is looking for someone to tell them they’re wanted,” explains Turallo. “They may have economic needs because that’s a big lure – here’s a way that you can make money.”

Maine’s homeless population is among the most vulnerable. In some cases, drugs are introduced early on to keep victims dependent.

“A lot of them are threatened – if you don’t produce enough, if you don’t bring in enough money or if you cause me any trouble, I will sell you to another pimp because you’re too much trouble for me,” says Turallo. “And that person will be in New Orleans or Boston or something like that.”

Michelle Markie and Amanda Blake are emergency room nurses at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor. They can be among the first to recognize a potential sex trafficking victim.

“When we notice that somebody cannot be alone,” explains Markie. “Or we notice another person does not want to leave their side. If a person is not allowed to hold their own medical card, their own ID, that can key in on – something’s not right here.”

“It’s a story that’s not quite consistent,” adds Blake. “It’s a sense of fear or submission that you’ll see in their eyes. And it’s those red flags that we’ve been trained to see that are becoming our reason to ask the right questions- are you being made to do something that you don’t want to do? Is somebody harming you? Could you leave where you are if you needed to?”

There are also physical signs.

“The trafficker will have five girls and they will all have a tattoo of his symbol,” says Blake. “So that they are his brand.”

“Sometimes it will be in the same place of their body,” says Markie. “We’ve seen brands on the inner lower lip.”

Markie and Blake say they don’t call police, unless the victim asks them to or the patient is a minor.

“A person who’s in an abusive situation, whether domestic or human trafficking situation, is an expert of what they’re going through,” explains Blake. “They know the dangers that they face, they know the risks that they face every day. So for us to push their timing is intensely dangerous.”

Instead they offer this…

“I hear what you’re saying,” says Markie, “I know what you’re going through, if you ever want help, there is help out there and I want you to know that. And we’re always here for you. And sometimes just for them to know that, you know, is good enough.”

“A lot of times they have the fear put into them that if you tell anybody, you’re going to be the one in trouble,” says Blake. “You’re going to be the one that goes to jail. You’re prostituting yourself. And they don’t have a victim mentality that – Oh, I’m being made to do this. They’re saying – I got myself into this situation and now I’m going to be in trouble if I get myself out.”
So what can be done to stop sex trafficking?

Maine recently enacted a law to help victims. And there are several state-wide and local groups working on a pro-active and multi-organizational approach. Watch Part Two of Sex Trafficking in Maine for that information.