By: Scott Sinclair
Staff Writer & Reporter
GREENSBURG, PA– The University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg and The Blackburn Center in Greensburg are partners in combating human rights abuses in Southwestern, PA.
Typically, Pitt and Penn State are rivals. The most obvious example of this are the athletic rivalries, but also the competition to lure incoming freshmen to either respective school looms large. But when an issue has larger societal ramifications the rivalries give way to cooperation. It is in that spirit that the following story is being reported.
The University of Pittsburgh Greensburg campus has a close affiliation with The Blackburn Center in Greensburg PA, which aids victims of many different types of abuse and also brings public awareness to these issues through communication and other outreach programs. The Blackburn Center employs a team of attorneys, counselors, psychologists, and social workers. The also work in affiliation with local law enforcement. The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg both donates as a university and through campus fund raising activities. Many UPG students volunteer and intern at the Blackburn Center, and in turn the Blackburn Center helps these students become aware of social issues in the world around them.
One such issue which may not seem prevalent in southwestern Pennsylvania is the crime of human trafficking. This however is a larger issue locally than it would seem. An FBI prostitution raid in Homestead PA in 2012 revealed that most of the prostitutes arrested in that raid were actually victims of sex trafficking.
Jessica Lohr is a criminal justice and psychology major at UPG who will be graduating in the spring and beginning law school. Lohr also is a paralegal at the law form of Fenters-Ward and provided some insight into the issue of human trafficking. “Most victims of human trafficking in the United States are between the ages of 12 and 14” Lohr says, “they are already in the sex industry in their country of origin where prostitution is often legal.” These young women are sold to brokers in these countries and are brought into the United States primarily through four states which serve as conduits: New York, California, Texas, and Nevada.
Human trafficking is not confined to bigger metropolitan cities such as New York City or Los Angeles. Lohr states that in Allegheny & Westmoreland counties law enforcement make multiple prostitution arrests on a weekly basis, and of these arrests approximately 80% of the prostitutes arrested have been victims of human trafficking.
This is where the work of the Blackburn Center begins. In some cases, the victims of trafficking are able to come forward on their own to seek the help of the center to get their lives on a better path. Those who have been arrested are made to serve their time in jail if the situation warrants, but are made aware of the services that the center provides and are encouraged to seek out these services upon their release.
According to Ms. Lohr many of the students at UPG who are either criminal justice or psychology majors take advantage of the school’s affiliation with the Blackburn Center to learn real-world lessons about victims of many different types of abuse, not just human trafficking, and how to aid the victims of these abuses find their way back to a more fulfilling way of life. These experiences help to mold these students into leaders of the next generation, who will continue the work towards eradicating these types of abuses and providing aid to these victims. These traits were evident with Ms. Lohr during her interview for The Nittany Pride as she spoke passionately and eloquently about the problem, and was very knowledgeable in the facts that were provided for this article.
The Blackburn Center itself, while being located in Greensburg, serves to help victims not just in Westmorland county, but also Allegheny and other counties in the region. This, according to Lohr, makes it the region’s foremost location for assisting these victims. The center has a very detailed website, blackburncenter.org, that provides a forum to learn about these abuses, including human trafficking, along with a place to report abuse, and to accept donations from the general public.
The Penn State community can very much acknowledge that The University of Pittsburgh, including its satellite campuses, provide strong civic leadership in southwestern Pennsylvania. This leadership, along with the hard work of its students, like Ms. Lohr and all those at the Greensburg campus, do well to serve organizations such as the Blackburn Center.
Continued success to the Blackburn Center, and for perhaps the first time ever in a Penn State publication, Hail to Pitt!