Nearly three years ago, in a Howard County General Hospital waiting room sit a human trafficking victim with her trafficker to get a prescription for insulin. Rowland Duffey, the victim’s trafficker, promised a romantic relationship to lure the 21-year-old victim.
Police dubbed him “Romeo”.
The young victim had just lost her father and thought her trafficker “seemed like a nice guy.” After falling asleep watching a movie with Duffey in a van, the victim woke up in an unfamiliar hotel, according to court records.
Duffey took her mobile phone and gave her a prepaid version, while demanding her to “answer anytime” he called. She was trafficked along the East Coast and in Columbia, court records show.
Duffey was eventually charged and found guilty of human trafficking.
In Howard County victims were once considered willing participants in the sex trade, but this case was a turning point.
The $150 billion global sex industry has made its way to the Howard County suburbs, from a hotel in Columbia to trodden down motels on Route 1.
According to an investigation of 50 closed sex trafficking cases in Howard County Circuit Court between 2010 and 2017, traffickers lured females into the sex trade with vows of care, attention and love. They were forced into an environment where resistance is rewarded with psychological and physical harm.
Over the last seven years, in Howard County Circuit Court about three quarters of charges was dropped in cases prosecuted under the felony sex trafficking provision of the law, according to an analysis by Baltimore Sun Media.
Victim advocates say coordinated services are few and far between despite aspiring strategies by state and county initiatives.
In 2016, police and detectives conducted 25 human trafficking investigations, which led to the arrest of 10 traffickers and 25 victims being assisted. In the last six years, over 55 cases were prosecuted in the Howard County Circuit Court on charges associated with human trafficking.
State prosecutors say that charges are dropped, if the victim is incapable or unwilling to testify.
“It’s not a numbers-drive situation. We work as hard as we can to hold these men accountable. It may sound like we are being weak or we’re dropping the ball, but if I had each case, I can say exactly why we did what we did,” said Howard County Assistant State’s Attorney Colleen McGuinn.